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These small, candy-coated chocolate treats are a childhood favourite for many. We remember all of the different kinds that have been launched throughout the years, including strange limited editions, and sharing bags that we tucked into while watching a film. M&M’s have been around since 1941, and they’ve had quite a journey so far.

How it all started

These rainbow-coloured candies are owned by Mars, Inc., who also own the rights to candies and chocolates such as the Mars bar, the Snickers bar, and Skittles. The company was founded on June 23rd, 1911 by Franklin Clarence Mars; a man who was taught how to hand-dip chocolate by his mother during his childhood. With a passion for food and candy, Franklin started his company with his wife in Tacoma, Washington.

Unfortunately, it was not meant to be. Another well-established business was already running the candy scene in the same city: Brown & Haley. This meant that the Mars Candy Factory, as it was known at the time, was not able to build the reputation that it wanted. In 1920, they decided to try again – moving to Minneapolis in Minnesota to found Mar-O-Bar Co and beginning to make and sell chocolate bars.

Later on, the company became Mars, Inc., and in 1923, Franklin’s son Forrest brought his father the idea of the Milky Way bar, which Franklin introduced to the company. It quickly became their best-selling candy bar. But we’re not here to talk about the Milky Way, we’re here to talk about one of the two rainbow candy brands that Mars, Inc. sells: M&M’s.

Heritage

In 1934, Franklin Mars died of heart problems, leaving his son Forrest the ownership of Mars, Inc. Though this was a tragedy, Forrest’s innovative ideas were already in circulation, and there was no one better than could have taken over the Mars company.

It was extremely obvious that Forrest had his father’s love for candy. M&M’s were introduced seven years after the death of the late Franklin Mars and are essentially a replica of the British Smarties candies.

During the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, Forrest Mars, Sr., saw soldiers eating these candy-coated chocolates, and was intrigued by the idea of using a hardened sugar syrup coating to prevent the chocolate inside the shell from melting. A patent for his own processes and ideas was filed, and Forrest Mars, Sr. began producing the candies in 1941. The M&M Limited company started its life in a factory located in Clinton Hill in New Jersey.

The two Ms that are featured in the candy’s name are there to honour both Forrest Mars, Sr. and Bruce Murrie, who had a 20% share of the product. Bruce Murrie was the son of William Murrie, the president of Hershey Chocolate. At the time, Hershey had control of the rationed chocolate, so by forming a team to create the chocolate, Mars’ creation was made with Hershey chocolate only. Next time you pick up a packet of M&M’s, just think for a moment that they’re technically called “Mars & Murrie’s”, which is pretty interesting, but wouldn’t have made as iconic of a name as “M&M’s” do.

Popularity

M&M’s first big customer was the U.S. Army, because the hard candy shell of the chocolate enabled soldiers to carry chocolate into tropical climates without it melting in the warmer temperatures. Chocolate may have been rationed during the war, but it was a great way to get fast energy into soldiers; which was sorely needed when they were working in the sun. During World War II, M&M’s were only sold to the military, and the subsequent demand for them caused an increase in production, which led to the company moving to bigger factory quarters in Newark, New Jersey.

They remained there until 1958, when they moved once again to an even bigger factory at Hackettstown. In 1978, a second factory was opened in Cleveland, Tennessee, in 1978. Today, around half of the production of M&M’s occurs at each factory. And just to give you an idea of how popular M&M’s have gotten, more than 400 million M&M’s are produced every day – in the US, alone. Each with its candy shell and its unique “M” symbol printed onto each one.

The popularity of M&M’s over the years has given way to a range of different variations of the candy. The standard M&M is simply candy-coated chocolate, but it wasn’t long before others came along. Peanut M&M’s were added to the market in 1954, mint-flavoured M&M’s Royals came along in the early 80s, and Almond M&M’s have appeared and reappeared from time to time (becoming a full-time product in 1992 after a couple decades of being taken on and off the product list).

Varieties

As well as appearing in a number of different varieties, M&M’s have had several different sizes, too. From regular sized M&M’s to mega M&M’s that contain three times the chocolate of the standard ones, M&M’s have been around the block a few times.

The chocolate inside the M&M’s candies has changed, as well. Since their conception, the public has been able to buy M&M’s with milk, dark, and white chocolate fillings. The candy coating has been subject to several colour changes, too. Alongside the standard ones, there are usually limited-edition candy colours, such as the green mint M&M’s and the pastel-toned Easter M&M’s.

As for actual flavours, Mars have tried so many things. In the nut family of M&M’s, we’ve seen the traditional peanut, the sought-after almond, hazelnuts, peanut butter, and even some strawberried nut flavours. Dessert M&M’s have encompassed everything from pretzel M&M’s to white chocolate candy corn M&M’s. There have been pecan pie, three milk, and carrot cake, too. As for other speciality M&M’s, over the years, pumpkin spice, cinnamon, and lots of other Autumn and Winter flavours have joined regular M&M’s on the shelf.

There have been a few fruit-inspired ones, too, with Mars incorporating the flavours of cherry, candy apple, and even orange chocolate into their candies; just to name a few.