As part of some research I’m doing for a not-so-soon-to-be-announced project, I read the book “The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars” by Joel Glenn Brenner. It will change the way you look at those candy displays in the supermarket checkout line. Brennen describes the history of the two major chocolate companies in the U.S.: Hersheys and Mars. They both have very different legacies built by two very different men: Forrest Mars Sr. and Milton S. Hershey.
Milton Hershey was a beloved man who by all accounts treated his workers well (though they had to go on strike to get a 40-hour workweek during the Depression), founded the town Hershey and an orphanage that is still caring for and educating children today. Childless, he donated away his entire fortune.
Forrest Mars Sr. was a genius at ruthlessly organizing and building a chocolate candy empire, but as a person could only be charitably described as an asshole. He was a practitioner of what is often called Management Through Bullying. The man would call workers at 3am to berate them for faulty-looking M’s printed on the M&Ms inside a bag he’d purchased at supermarket somewhere on his travels. The upside of this is that he built a strong and resilient company with a unique culture that has trained many the leader of other successful companies. Why? Because talented people would work there a decade or two, realize they’ll never get too high up the company ladder (top rungs reserved for family), and move on. This has changed slightly since the book was published; the current CEO is Paul Michaels.
Hershey is not a player in the chocolate candy market outside of the U.S. By contrast, Mars, with its unique and extremely aggressive approach, is a world powerhouse when it comes to chocolate candy and other products like Pedigree dog food and Uncle Ben’s rice.
Here are some things I did not know before reading this book:
- M&M’s were originally filled with chocolate supplied by Hershey’s. This ended in the 60’s.
- “M&M” stands for Mars and Murrie after Forrest Mars Sr. and Bruce Murrie. Murrie, son of Hershey President William F.R. Murrie, had a 20% interest in the M&M candy.
- Hershey’s is majority-owned by the orphanage Milton Hershey founded.
- Candy companies count on the fact that about 90% of all candy purchases are un-planned; they know the vast majority of people don’t go grocery shopping and put candy bars on their list.
- Mars is privately held and still run by members of the Mars family.
- Chocolate has over 1200 chemical compounds, making it impossible so far to replicate its flavor through artificial means.
As a kid growing up here in the U.S., I’d say may favorite candies were Sweet Tarts (especially the three-pack giant-sized kind), Sprees, Tootsie-roll pops, Hubba Bubba bubblegum, and my two favorites: Three Musketeers bars and Skittles. I took the ACT test wired on Skittles and Pepsi, and I did very well, thank you very much.
I stopped liking Hershey chocolate (bars, kisses, etc.) when I was 24. In that I year I quit my job and backpacked through Europe. First stop: UK. I ate a Cadbury bar, then a Caramelo bar. Very yummy. Started thinking, so this is what people mean when they say English chocolates are better. Those people are right.
But what killed Hershey’s chocolate and it’s dusty dry flavor for me was Germany. There I tasted the chocolate bars that my girlfirend at the time had asked me to buy and send back to her: Milka. After eating a few of the different kinds (Milk Chocolate, Strawberry Cream, Hazelnut, and Marzipan) I was pissed, thinking, “the average Johann and Dieter grow up eating Milka bars and us Americans are stuck with Hershey’s? What’s wrong with this world?” A lot, in fact.
Oh, I’ll eat Hershey’s in a pinch, if I have a taste for chocolate and that’s all that’s available. But I don’t prefer it to any other chocolate. The local Meijer’s even carries a small selection of Milka bars, Aero, and Yorkie (It’s NOT for Girls!). And then there are Ghirardelli, Green &Black’s, Dagoba…mmm, chocolate.