Still owned and controlled by its founding family, packaged foods giant Mars is one of the world's biggest private companies, with annual sales of around $33bn. In addition to its globe-spanning confectionery brands, which include Snickers, M&Ms, Starburst and Skittles, the company is one of the leading worldwide manufacturers of petfood, through Pedigree and Whiskas and other brands, and also manufactures sauces and easy-cook rice-based meals under the Uncle Ben's umbrella. In April 2008, in by far the biggest acquisition in the company's history, Mars acquired gum and mint giant Wrigley in a substantial $23bn deal which made it the world's largest overall confectioner. It was pushed back into second place two years later by the merger of Kraft and Cadbury. In chocolate, it still ranks behind Hershey in the US, although Mars has a far wider global spread. M&M's and Snickers are the world's best-selling confectionery brands.
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Adbrands Weekly Update 12th Jan 2017: Mars Inc is to expand its petcare division, already one of the world's largest, with the acquisition of US veterinary group VCA for $7.7bn, or $9.1bn including debt. That company runs around 800 animal hospitals across the US as well as 60 large diagnostic labs and a chain of doggy daycare centres under the Camp Bow Wow brand. Sales were around $2bn last year. VCA will continue to operate as a separate division under the umbrella of Mars Petcare, and will take over management of Mars's existing vet division, which runs 1,100 pet hospitals under the Banfield, Bluepearl and Pet Partners banners. The deal will make petcare the single biggest business within Mars, ahead of confectionery.
Adbrands Weekly Update 3rd Nov 2016: Ads of the Week: "Keep Them Busy". It's quite extraordinary how cutting-edge CGI has transformed the way even commercials are made these days. We wouldn't be at all surprised if this delightfully destructive Christmas spot from Adam&Eve DDB for Mars' Temptations cat treats doesn't contain just as much behind the scenes computer wizardry as many a much showier spot. Cats are notoriously hard to herd (even if they single-handedly power the internet) so presumably every cat here was filmed separately and then superimposed into a single shot. What a task!
Adbrands Weekly Update 13th Oct 2016: Mars has taken full control of the Wrigley chewing gum business, buying out investment partner Berkshire Hathaway for an undisclosed sum. Mars teamed up in 2008 with billionaire Warren Buffett's investment vehicle to acquire Wrigley. Acting as financier to the deal, Berkshire contributed a total of $6.5bn to the purchase price. Around two-thirds of that sum was a loan to Mars, which has already been repaid. The remaining $2.1bn purchased a direct 20% stake in what then became a separate operating division combining Mars's sugar confectionery brands with Wrigley's gum brands. It has remained a separate legal entity from the main Mars business for the past eight years. Berkshire's preference shares in the business carried a guaranteed 5% annual return, which has netted that group around $840m to-date in dividends. The buyout allows Mars to consolidate Mars Wrigley with its main chocolate confectionery division. Current Mars Wrigley president Martin Radvan will lead the combined confectionery business, supported by Jean-Christophe Flatin as president of Mars Global Chocolate. Casey Keller, previously regional president of Wrigley Americas, becomes president of Global Wrigley.
Adbrands Weekly Update 29th Sep 2016: Mars has called a review of media buying assignments in several international markets including the UK, Germany, China and Australia. Currently, the confectionery to petcare giant splits planning buying between separate networks. WPP's Mediacom is generally responsible for all planning duties, while buying is held mostly by Publicis-owned networks, such as Zenith in the UK and Starcom in China and Australia.
Adbrands Weekly Update 22nd Sep 2016: Ads of the Week "18-Year-Old Grandpa". We wish we didn't have to tell you upfront what this lovely ad from BBDO Japan is for, in order to avoid spoiling the twist at the end. However, some viewers might not put two and two together because this familiar global brand is still known in Japan by another name, Kal Kan. But you'll probably work it out for yourself before the reveal. What we will say is that you might find a tear in your eye by the end... It's a clever idea, a nice way of communicating the emotional benefits of buying this particular product. Now stop trying to guess and just watch the ad already!
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Free for all users | see full profile for current activities: During the early years of the 20th century, company founder Franklin Mars had tried his hand at a number of different confectionery businesses. All of them failed and in 1910 his first wife Ethel, also the mother of his infant son Forrest, divorced him. He married again and eventually set up business in Minneapolis in the early 1920s, with a company which he named Mar-O-Bar. His new product, launched in 1923, was a chocolate-covered nougat bar which he named Milky Way. Against all the odds, it proved a huge success, generating sales of almost $1m in its first year and finally making Franklin Mars a wealthy man.
Franklin had had little contact with his son over the previous 20 years, but in 1930 persuaded Forrest to come and work for the company, now renamed Mars Inc. That same year, Frank developed another new nougat bar, which he named Snickers after a favourite horse he owned. Two years later this was followed by 3 Musketeers, by which time the company's sales had grown to $25m. Ironically, although the Mars factory made the nougat filling for its products, all of the chocolate used to coat them was supplied under contract by Hershey, already firmly established as the country's #1 confectioner.
Despite Frank's attempts to patch up relations with Forrest, the two argued constantly, and Mars Jr also regularly vented his evil temper on employees. In 1932, the head-strong and confrontational young man tried to persuade his father to expand the business into Canada. Frank Mars refused, preferring to rest on his hard-won laurels as the #2 US candy maker. This led to their most bitter row yet, and Forrest left the company. As a parting gift, his father gave him $50,000 and foreign rights to Milky Way and then wrote Forrest out of his will.
Forrest Mars ran off to Europe. His first stop was Switzerland, where he took jobs as a production line worker at Tobler and Nestlé in order to learn more about chocolate manufacturing. He ended up in the UK where he started his own business, Food Manufacturers Ltd in the town of Slough, west of London. In 1933 he launched a slightly sweeter version of his father's Milky Way, which he named the Mars Bar. A year later he diversified into petfood, buying Chappel Brothers, a company which had carved out a small niche for itself repackaging meat by-products as dogfood under the brandname Chappie. At the time, it was virtually the only company in the UK which sold food specially made for pets. Generally, household animals were fed table scraps. Mars spotted an opportunity, launching a second brand, Pedigree, and managed to increase sales in his new venture to £100,000 over the next five years.
In the same year that Forrest Mars launched himself into the petfood business, Franklin Mars died, leaving his business to his second wife and their daughter Patricia. With his father now out of the way, Forrest was strongly tempted to try his hand building his own rival empire back in the US. In 1939, he returned home, leaving the UK business in the hands of senior managers. Just before he left he reportedly made an agreement with rival British confectioner Rowntree Mackintosh to license a process they had developed for hard-coating chocolate beans with a candy shell, which they introduced in the UK as Smarties. On his return to the US, Forrest recruited Bruce Murrie, son of the president of Hershey, as his business partner and launched his own version of Smarties in 1940 under the name M&M's (which stood for Mars & Murrie's). Like Mars Inc, M&M's bought its chocolate under contract from Hershey, but that relationship soured rapidly after Forrest kicked out Murrie in 1949. Fearing the introduction of a competitive product, Mars began stamping a letter M on his M&Ms from 1950.
Forrest Mars was also experimenting in other areas. During the early 1940s he acquired rights to a process for parboiling rice for commercial sale, and he launched the product in 1945 under the brand name Uncle Ben's. Like his earlier invention of packaged petfood, this was another ground-breaking step. Rice was a common enough commodity, but no one had tried to brand it before. Ad agency pioneer Leo Burnett, who specialised in character-led branding, was tasked with inventing a name for the product. According to company legend, the resulting "Uncle Ben" character was inspired by a waiter in a Chicago restaurant where Burnett and Forrest Mars met for lunch.
Now Forrest turned his attention to his father's old business, still controlled by his stepmother and her family. Mars Inc had launched several new products since Frank Mars's death, including its own Mars Bar in 1936 (bearing no similarity to Forrest's British Mars Bar). But none of the new products had come close to matching the success of Milky Way, 3 Musketeers and Snickers. In 1945, Franklin Mars' second wife died, leaving a small part of her shareholding to Forrest as a gesture of reconciliation. He used this gift to wage war on the company's executive team. Arguing that the business was being managed poorly, he attempted to persuade the board to let him take full control. Little by little he began to increase his influence over the company. Finally, after almost twenty years of badgering, he managed to persuade his half-sister Patricia to sell her stake to him. In 1964, he finally took control of Mars Inc in the US, merging it with his existing businesses M&M's Inc in the US and Food Manufacturers in the UK.
The next step was to terminate the relationship with Hershey's, which had continued to supply coating to Mars. In fact that contract accounted for 30% of Hershey's sales by 1964. Mars then mounted a brutally aggressive marketing strategy against the larger company, overtaking it as the #1 US confectioner by the mid-1970s. He also extended his petfood business, buying US manufacturer KalKan in 1968, as well as Masterfoods, a small business based in Australia which was the local importer of Uncle Ben's. Over the following years, the Masterfoods name was gradually adopted by the food businesses elsewhere in the group. At the same time, Mars expanded its range, launching several of his US brands in the UK. Snickers was introduced in 1968 as Marathon; M&Ms were introduced as Treets. (Both brands were brought into line with the US branding in 1990s, at the same time as Opal Fruits were renamed Starburst).
In 1976, having achieved his ambition to become the leading confectioner in the US, Forrest abruptly decided to give up the business. He handed over all his shares in Mars Inc to sons Forrest Jr and John and daughter Jacqueline, and went off to dabble in another small operation of his own, Ethel M liqueur chocolates, named after his mother. (This too was inherited by Forrest Jr and John in 1986). The brothers had inherited their father's hot temper, as well as his rigorous control of the minutiae of the business. To set an example to his employees, Forrest Mars Sr had insisted on punching a time-clock every day when he arrived at work, and the same rules applied under his sons. Staff were obliged to work long hours, usually in the most sparsely furnished corporate offices, and perfection was demanded at every stage of the manufacturing process. In compensation, however, the company was renowned for its exceptional salaries - managers could earn as much as twice the amount paid by competing companies, provided they performed well.
However Forrest Jr and John Mars lacked their father's uniquely obsessive entrepreneurial zeal, and adopted a highly conservative approach to the business. Rather than invent new products of their own, the brothers instead chose to launch tried and tested European brands such as Twix or Starburst in the US. These were only modestly successful, and gradually the company's lead as #1 confectioner began to be whittled away. Famously, the brothers made a huge blunder in the mid-1980s, when they refused permission for M&Ms to be used in the film E.T. as the candy used to lure the extra-terrestrial out of the woods. Instead director Steven Spielberg approached arch-rival Hershey for their lesser known Reese's Pieces. After the film's release, sales of Reese's Pieces tripled. The company missed another huge opportunity when it turned down a chance to buy Peter Paul, the US confectionery business of Cadbury. Instead Hershey bought the company in 1988, finally pushing Mars back into the #2 slot.
The company did however buy ice cream maker Dove Bar International, which became the core of a new line of Mars-branded impulse ice creams, later introduced into the UK. In 1995, Mars also played a key part in the establishment of agency M&C Saatchi when it withdrew its £230m Whiskas account from Saatchi & Saatchi after Maurice and Charles were ousted in a boardroom coup. In 2001 the group agreed to buy Royal Canin, Continental Europe's leading pet food company, for about E1.5bn. It was the group's first major acquisition since 1986. The deal was cleared by European regulators in early 2002 on condition that Mars sell off certain brands to avoid a potential monopoly in the French and German markets. Mars divested its own Brekkies and Advance petfood brands, as well as Royal Canin's Royal Chien, Premium and Playdog products.
In 2002 the company launched an outrageously cheeky assault on the long-running slogan used by arch-rival Nestle's Kit Kat, announcing plans to launch a rival product, Have A Break. Nestle was unable to prove in court that its "Have a break - have a Kit Kat" catchphrase constituted a trademark, but in fact the Mars Have A Break bar has yet to see light of day.
John Mars followed his brother into retirement in 2003, handing over day-to-day running of the business to professional managers, principally CEO Paul Michaels. Although this led to a growth in confidence and a greater willingness to try out new ideas, some of the old habits continued, not least the intense secrecy surrounding all aspects of the business. Gradually, however, those old attitudes changed and the group began to demonstrate new daring in both its marketing and its corporate strategy from 2006 onwards. See full profile for current activities
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