Though companies like Hershey and M&M/Mars continue to create new chocolate candy creations each year, it turns out the most popular ones are some of the oldest. According to the Chicago marketing firm, Symphony IRI Group, the #1 choice is not in a bar form at all and has a patriotic background.
Last year, the classic candy known as M&M’s came in the #1 spot with $406.7 million with unit sales of 417.7 million. The fact that they are #1 may not surprise you, but their origin story might. The creation began from a family spat. Forrest Mars Sr., the son of creator of the Milky Way bar, packed up his things and moved to England in 1932. His mission was to manufacture the Mars bars for the soldiers in the United Kingdom. While there and during the Spanish Civil War, he saw soldiers munching on little orbs of chocolate that were covered with a candy coating. Thrilled with the prospect of giving American soldiers a chocolate candy that wouldn’t melt in high heat, he flew back to America and met with Bruce Murrie (the son of a Hershey executive) to help him create a new treat. And that is where we get the name M&M’s from: Mars & Murrie.
M&M candies were first created in 1941 in Newark, New Jersey. They were originally packed in cardboard tubes and the candies that would melt in your mouth and not on your hands were covered in brown, red, orange, green and violet coatings. America at large were not aware of these little wonders as they were sold exclusively to the American military. After the war, they began to show up on store shelves with an instant audience – the GI’s who fought in the war. It was short time later that Mars bought out Murrie’s shares in the company, but the product continued to use the same name instead of changing it to just “M.” (Really, it was for the best.)
The familiar dark brown bag we see today was first incorporated by the company in 1948. In 1950, the candies were branded with an “m.” (If you didn’t see an “m” you didn’t have the right thing!) The brown bagged candies got a sidekick in 1954– Yellow-bagged Peanut M&M’s. That is also the birth year of the famous spokescandies, Mr. Plain and Mr. Peanut. We now know them as Red and Yellow. Mr. Plain was originally voiced by Jon Lovitz and Mr. Peanut was voiced by John Goodman. (Today, they are voiced by Billy West and J.K. Simmons) By 1956, M&M’s had become the #1 candy in the U.S.
In 1976, M&M’s took the dramatic step of removing the color red from their products. This was due to the fear of dangers of using the food color FD&C Red #2 which was suspected to be a carcinogen. M&M’s never contained the notorious dye but eliminated it anyway to calm nervous mothers. Orange candies took their place. The red candies didn’t come back to the bag until ten years later as a result to a petition that was started by a college student. In a related story, tan was phased out in 1995 in favor of blue and violet was only used until 1950.
In 1981, M&M’s were the first chocolate candies to fly around in outer space by the request of the NASA space shuttle Columbia crew. They also became the “official snack” of the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. (Somehow Olympians chowing down on M&M’s doesn’t seem very healthy, but whatever.)
In 1982, there must have been a giant group palm to the forehead moment when M&M/Mars rejected to be featured in the movie, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. However, Hershey had no problem offering up their fairly new product, Reese’s Pieces, to have a starring role. Sales of the new candy rose 300% after the release of the movie.
For most of us, it seems that holiday-colored M&M’s have been around since the beginning of time, but they didn’t arrive on the scene until 1986.
In 1991, American’s got their first taste of peanut butter M&M’s.
In 1996, M&M’s came in mini size sold in tubes or in bags in the baking aisle.
In 1999, Crispy M&M’s arrived and must have been perceived as a flop because they were discontinued in 2005 and have only recently been re-introduced.
In 2005, the company candy built on its non-bar status began creating the M-Azing chocolate bar that contained mini M&M’s inside. It was discontinued a short time later only to reappear in 2013. Its fate doesn’t look promising.
In 2007, the company decided to go the opposite way of the mini’s with Mega M&M’s to help promote the film Shrek claiming that they were “ogre-sized M&M’s.” They came back in 2014.
In 2010, the company began stuffing round pretzels into M&M’s creating a sweet and salty sensation.
And today – soldiers can still look forward to finding their little friends in the MRE (Meal, Ready to Eat) field rations. It makes a complete circle of life.