Veteran’s Day

Untold war stories: Mars and M&M’s military history

By Oliver Nieburg

- Last updated on GMT

Mars' M&M's brand has a strong military heritage and was created in wartime for US troops. Photo: Mars
Mars' M&M's brand has a strong military heritage and was created in wartime for US troops. Photo: Mars
Mars shares war stories about some of its leading brands on the eve of Veteran’s Day, otherwise known as Armistice Day.

Tomorrow (November 11) marks the anniversary of the end of World War I. An armistice was signed between major powers on 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.

The US will honor its armed forces on what it renamed Veterans Day in 1954.

The US federal holiday was previously termed Armistice Day, and continues to be observed under this name in Britain, France and Belgium.

M&M’s in US army rations

Tim Lebel, president of sales, for Mars Chocolate North America, told ConfectioneryNews: “There are many interesting stories about Mars and military history, but one of the most interesting is that [M&M’s] was made exclusively for the US military during World War II for use in MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat) because of their durability in warm climates.”

M&M's tube2
M&M's tube from 1940. Source: Mars

M&M’s was created in 1941 in Newark, New Jersey during World War II. The sugar-coated shells made the product ideal as a non-melt ration for American soldiers deployed overseas.

“However, once they returned home after the war, the soldiers missed their favorite treats, and Mars began producing M&M’S for the masses in 1947,” ​said Lebel.

M&M’s packages for the Red Cross

M&M’s is today the number two US chocolate confectionery brand weighing less than 3,5oz with $456m in dollar sales, according to IRI data for the 52 weeks up to August 7, 2016.

The brand has just announced the arrival of a new SKU, M&M’s Caramel,​ to be introduced in April next year.

The special cellophane bags of M&M’s were also made beginning in 1945 specifically for the use of the Red Cross, according to Mars.

“Mars was a large supporting partner to the military in both the US and UK during World War II,” ​said Lebel.

Uncle Ben’s for the troops

uncle ben's rice - flickr-chris
Photo: Flickr/Chris

Mars acquired a patent for parboiling rice in 1942 at its Houston, Texas factory. Its process protected the rice from insect infestation, allowing the military to ship it to overseas troops. “During the war, this factory’s total production was exclusively for the military with the name ‘Converted Brand Rice.’ After the war, the product was rebranded to the “Uncle Ben’s” brand…,” said Lebel.

World War I business impact

Mars’ business was not significantly affected by World War I as, by the mid-1910s, founder Frank C. Mars had only just started making and selling butter cream candy from his kitchen in Tacoma, Washington.

"So during World War I, many of the Mars products today’s consumers know and love hadn’t yet been invented,”​ said Lebel.

“However, in the period between the first and second world wars, the Mars business grew with the launch of beloved products such as Milky Way, Snickers, Mars Bars and 3 Musketeers," ​he continued.

Mars starts exports between the wars

Mars began to expand its chocolate business overseas in 1931. It started to produce the Mars bar a year later from its first UK factory.

The Mars bar was considered an equivalent to the US Milky Way bar. The company introduced Maltesers to Europe in 1936, three years before World War II began.

It also expanded into pet food  in 1935 with dog food brand Chappie and cat food brand Kitekat. Both products were advertised and sold in the UK during World War II.

Mars continues its military support

“Today, Mars partners closely with Operation Gratitude, an organization that sends care packages to US service members deployed overseas,”​ he said.

The company has donated $750,000 worth of packages so far this year to commemorate M&M’s 75th anniversary. It also still supports the Military MRE (Meals Ready to Eat) program, which sends seasonal products to US troops overseas.

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