2007 Processor of the Year: Mars Inc.

Coming off a stellar year, Mars' U.S. Snackfood division is accelerating product development, mining dark chocolate for all is benefits and bringing custom-batch manufacturing to high-volume products such as M&M'S.

By Dave Fusaro, Editor in Chief

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"Dove Chocolate is the top selling brand of premium chocolate in the U.S.," says Lachman. "Within the top 10 chocolate brands, Dove is the fastest growing brand."

They know their chocolate


This is a company that has studied chocolate for nearly 100 years. That bean-to-bar knowledge led to the discovery in the late 1980s of flavanols, a class of plant compounds, in cocoa and their role in heart health, specifically cholesterol control. Mars claims to have done the earliest research and has more than 100 published papers and 80 U.S. patents relating to the subjects.

The research resulted in the mid-2006 introduction of CocoaVia, a groundbreaking product that put chocolate's health benefits front and center. While that product "continues to be an important part of our product portfolio," according to Lachman, the flavanol message is being moved more mainstream under the Dove brand, which has become Mars' premium chocolate brand.

"The health benefits of cocoa flavanols have been incorrectly simplified in consumer communications to equate flavanols with percent cacao in chocolate products," says Lachman. "It is the process by which the cocoa is processed that will help retain the flavanols. Mars has been the global leader in cocoa flavanol research for more than 15 years.  We have employed that research to create the [patented] Mars Cocoapro process."

Furthermore, "In 2008, we will introduce a new CocoaVia beverage, which will deliver twice the amount of flavanols in a convenient format," says Lachman.

In addition to the R&D facilities in the U.S., Mars is the only manufacturer that has a research center in an "origin country." Research from the Mars Center for Cocoa Science in Bahia, Brazil, augments the main research and development facility in Hackettstown. Two pilot plants are in production facilities in Elizabethtown, Pa., and Cleveland, Tenn., the latter specializing in baked products (Twix cookie bars and Combos pretzel-like snacks). Elizabethtown, a two-hour drive west of Hackettstown, recently underwent a $70 million expansion and upgrade, especially to meet increasing demand for Dove chocolate.

"Product development starts in a very cross-functional way," says Jerome. "Within each business unit, people are charged with idea capture and generation. Plus, this is a big, global company, so good ideas get shared between sister units. A really good idea from Germany gets brought here. Our ideas are exported there."

Even "traditional" R&D, the chemistry of candy, is augmented by in-depth "consumer ethnographics" - why people like what they like and how they shop. "It's like being an anthropologist," says Jerome. "We even develop algorithms - psychographic and ethnographic - to understand the target audience."

More than chocolate

While Mars Snackfood has an undeniable focus on chocolate, it has several other successful products. In the candy realm, Mars makes Starburst and Skittles sugary candies and Munch, an all-peanut bar. The Twix brand has a cookie center surrounded by chocolate. Kudos granola bar was a first step into cereal/snack bars, which Mars has greatly expanded with energy bars under the Snickers Marathon brand. Combos, a filled pretzel nugget, is so far the only salty snack.

Earlier this year, the company launched the Generation Max line of snacks for teens. "We were the first company to develop a completely new product line designed to meet the stringent school nutrition guidelines in the U.S.," says Lachman. Generation Max clusters, snack bars, cookies, crackers and pretzel products all are less than 150 calories per serving and contain less than 35 percent of calories from fat, 10 percent of calories from saturated fat and 35 percent sugar by weight. All of the snacks are labeled zero grams trans fat, and are fortified with essential vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin D, B-vitamins and calcium.

More recent and future product introductions:

  • 3 Musketeers Mint
  • Dove Flavored Caramels
  • M&M'S in Dark Chocolate Peanut, Razzberry and Wildly Cherry
  • Skittles Carnival Gum and Chocolate Mix
  • Snickers Dark and Nut 'n' Butter Crunch
  • Twix Java

"We've done well. We have some of the best known and most loved brands in the world and the finest minds working on making them better or creating new brands," says Lachman.

"Snackfoods is a great business to be in - fun to make, fun to market, fun to eat. And if done right, the fun part of sensible eating," he continues. "Snacking is becoming an acceptable part of daily eating. So Mars Snackfoods U.S. is well positioned for future success."

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