Big Chocolate, Little Town


This blog post will focus on the relationship between Mars, Incorporated, and UC Davis. I chose to write about this topic for two reasons: 1) I am a lifelong native of Davis, CA 2) I was caught by surprise when I read in my local paper that Mars, Incorporated was opening a research and development cocoa ‘hub’ in my small college town, and wanted to learn more about the ‘hub’ (Ternus-Bellamy, 2019). As we have discussed throughout this course, Mars, Inc. is one of the major ‘players’ not just in the chocolate arena, but also in the gum and dog food arena (Martin, 2019 Lecture 7). Despite their vast success, their company still remains somewhat mysterious to the outside world. Mars, Inc.’s secretness only adds to my fascination that they decided to come to my small college town. While I knew that UC Davis was a major player in agricultural research, I was not aware of their relationship with Mars, Inc. (Filmer, 2019 paragraph 4). This blog post will be divided into three parts: 1) the history of Mars, Incorporated 2) the relationship with UC Davis 3) discussion of their new research and development ‘hub’. The post will then end with a short conclusion.

The History of Mars, Incorporated:

Throughout its years as a company, Mars, Inc. has remained somewhat of a mystery to the outside world (Martin, 2019 Lecture 7). As Dr. Martin described in lecture, Mars, Inc. is “very secretive, and very perfectionistic and have some of the most forefront research on cacao,” (Martin, 2019 Lecture 7). The company is based in McLean, Virginia and “has more than $35 billion in annual sales and operates in more than 80 countries,” (Boykin, 2019 paragraph 7). Frank Mars cultivated his interest in candy and chocolate from an early age, having watched his mother cook and bake candy (Brenner, 2000 pg. 49).

Frank Mars and his mother Elva

Frank began his own business shortly after he graduated from high school during a time in which “the candy-making industry was in its infancy, with fewer than one hundred large-scale manufacturers in operation,” (Brenner, 2000 pg. 50). At the turn of the century (when Frank opened his business) “‘old-fashioned’ favorites like Necco Wafers, Boston Baked Beans, Red Hots and Good & Plenty, didn’t exist […] neither did candy bars,” (Brenner, 2000 pg. 50). Frank’s initial product was ‘penny candy’ which was difficult to sell given its limited duration of freshness (Brenner, 2000, pg. 51). Frank’s company took a turn for the worst, and his wife divorced him and took away his son, Forrest (who will later come back into the picture) (Brenner, 2000 pg. 51). Frank then married again and moved to Seattle where he tried to start another candy company (Brenner, 2000 pg. 51). The second company failed as well, as did the third candy company that he tried to start in Tacoma (Brenner ,2000 pg. 51). He moved back to Minnesota with his wife, and started another candy company: Mar-O-Bar Co. (Brenner, 2000 pg. 52).

Flash forward some time, and Frank is reunited with his son Forrest, who was himself a businessman (Brenner, 2000 pg. 53). Shortly after reuniting, Frank produces the Milky Way bar, which Forrest claims was his idea (Brenner, 2000 pg. 54). The Milky Way bar was successful for two reasons: 1) the bar could stay fresh for far longer than normal candies 2) the bar was bigger and cheaper to produce because of the nougat in the middle (Brenner, 2000 pg. 54-55). The Milky Way bar made Mars a success overnight (Brenner 2000 pg. 55). Soon thereafter, Frank opened a new factory in Chicago and launched two new candy bars: the Snickers bar and the 3 Musketeers (Brenner, 2000 pg. 57-58). Interestingly enough, despite being the two forefront leaders in the candy industry, Mars and Milton Hershey were friends, and Mars even used Hershey chocolate for Mars’s candy bars (Brenner, 2000 pg. 58). Despite his success, Frank was content on continuing on with the status quo, but Forrest wanted to expand even further (Brenner, 2000 pg. 59). Frank then suddenly died, and Forrest, still angry with his father, moved to Europe to study chocolate (Brenner, 2000 pg. 60).

Milky Way Advertisement (1923)

Upon ‘learning all there was to know’ about chocolate, Forrest opened his own company in England and launched a re-envisioned version of the Milky Way bar- the Mars bar (Brenner, 2000 pg. 65). Forrest was difficult to work for- but his employees were rewarded with high pay in exchange for chocolate perfection (Brenner, 2000 pg. 66-67). He was very successful in England, but was forced to leave upon the outbreak of WWII (Brenner, 2000 pg. 69). Despite his short stay in England, England still celebrates Forrest as one of their own.

In 1964, Forrest took over as the head of Mars, Inc., and upon his arrival he parted ways with Hershey (Brenner, 2000 pg. 179). This move, along with Forrest’s refusal to join the National Confectioners Association rubbed many chocolatiers the wrong way (Brenner, 2000 pg. 179-180). Nello Ferrara of Ferrara Pan Candy Co. said the following regarding Forrest Mars:

“In the candy business, nobody shared information; it was very competitive and everybody understood that […] but it was common decency to join the National Confectioners Association, to attend the conventions. Everybody was there- except him. He didn’t participate in anything He didn’t pay dues; he didn’t help sponsor any industry initiatives. He wouldn’t serve on any committees. It was a real insult to the rest of us.” (Nello Ferrara quoted in Brenner, 2000 pg. 180). Forrest’s refusal to participate with the National Confectioners Association was a break from Mars, Inc. longtime involvement prior to his joining of the company (Brenner, 2000 pg. 180).

In an additional move that stunned members of the chocolate world, Forrest ended Mars’ use of Hershey’s chocolate for their coatings (Brenner, 2000 pg. 181-182). Describing Forrest’s decision, Brenner states the following:

“Forrest wanted not only to make his own chocolate, but to turn his father’s company into a manufacturing powerhouse- a dynamo of quality and efficiency that would overtake Hershey and leave every other candy maker far behind. His drive for preeminence was not simply a matter of ego, but stemmed from his fundamental belief that success could be assured only by being the industry leader.” (Brenner, 2000 pg. 182)

Forrest wanted to have control over all aspects of Mars’ candy production (Brenner, 2000 pg. 183). Mars became the preeminent candy company in terms of manufacturing, and efficiency (Brenner, 2000 pg. 183-184). However, Forrest refused to sacrifice quality for efficiency or cost (Brenner, 2000 pg. 186).

“Forrest believed that the only way to achieve success was to offer the consumer the best product on the market. Cost could never justify sacrificing quality. When other candy makers began replacing cocoa butter with cheaper fats like vegetable oil, Forrest refused. When others started using vanillin instead of vanilla, he refused. He insisted on the freshest ingredients, and he managed all of his factories so that raw materials arrived daily and were used immediately,” (Brenner, 2000 pg. 186).

Forrest was fixated on being the best and employing the best, which could be a reason as to why Mars, Inc. is involved with UC Davis (Brenner, 2000, pg. 190-191). UC Davis is a preeminent research institute in terms of agriculture and plant science (Filmer, 2019, paragraph 7).

The Relationship with UC Davis:

According to David Mackill, the director of Cocoa Genetics and Breeding at Mars, “the project [the new research and development hub] builds on the relationship we [mars] have developed with UC Davis over the last 35 years,” (Mackill quoted in Filmer, 2019 paragraph 3). The relationship between UC Davis and Mars “has included collaboration on research projects related to agriculture, food, nutrition, biology, and veterinary health, including sequencing the cacao genome in 2010 and founding the African Orphan Crops Consortium focused on improving yield, productivity, and adaptability of key crops.” (Filmer, 2019 paragraph 4). The sequencing of the cocoa genome “was a major breakthrough that [did] lead to much-needed research on improving yields and disease resistance of the cocoa plant,” (Hebets, 2015 paragraph 9). Moreover, Mars, Inc. has contributed to the building of “a state-of-the-art greenhouse complex on campus that will allow university and Mars scientists to maintain a collection of cacao clones that reflect the diversity of the species and to use the collection to breed new clones with higher productivity, resistance to diseases and pests, and high-quality chocolate,” (Filmer, 2019 paragraph 5). Mars, Inc. also pledged to donate $40 million to UCD’s Innovation Institute for Food and Health (Ternus-Bellamy, 2019, paragraph 7).

Regarding the ‘research and development hub’ itself, Mars, Inc. hopes to employ 15 plant scientists/contractors from the Mars, Inc., “who will be working in collaboration with UC Davis faculty and students on research projects.” (Ternus-Bellamy, 2019 paragraph 1). In their explanation as to why they remain committed to researching cacao, Mars, Inc. argues that “typically funded by governments, agricultural agencies or universities, research into cacao cultivation has long been under-resourced, receiving far too little funding support […] Mars believes its research efforts can help boost the productivity of the farmers we depend on by further encouraging greater funding into cacao research and making the research available unrestricted in the public domain,” (Mars, Inc. quoted in Ternus-Bellamy, 2019 paragraph 14). Both UC Davis and Mars, Inc. believe that their research will help cacao farmers live better lives (Boykin, 2019 paragraph 5). As the Davis mayor stated, the research and development ‘hub’ will be a private-public partnership (Ternus-Bellamy, 2019 paragraph 16).

The building that will house the new research and development ‘hub’ for Mars, Inc.

Discussion of Mars, Inc. New Research and Development ‘Hub’:

By analyzing Mars Inc.’s relationship with UC Davis, it is clear that Mars, Inc. is dedicated to researching cacao and implementing better farming practices (Filmer, 2019, paragraph 4). Mars, Inc. has pledged millions of dollars to cacao research at UC Davis, and launching their own research and development ‘hub’ downtown next to the University (Ternus-Bellamy, 2019 paragraph 1, 7). And yet, given their history as a company, I am left wondering whether these are genuine moves by the company, or whether they are looking out for their own self-interest? Does Mars, Inc. actually care about “improving the lives of cacao farmers around the world,” as UC Davis’s vice chancellor for research claims (Boykin, 2019 paragraph 5)? Or, does Mars want to “[boost] the productivity and quality of cacao” in order for farmers to be able to produce more quality cacao at the same cost, and then Mars will be able to gain a higher profit (Boykin, 2019, paragraph 5)? Many of the actions that Forrest Mars took while he was in charge of Mars, Inc. may have appeared to be ‘kind’ (i.e. paying very high salaries), but they were done to improve Mars’ bottom line (Brenner, 2000 pg. 191). Forrests’ management style employed the use of “numerical models to understand the tradeoffs among ROTA, profits and sales, setting annual targets for each. If you met those targets it meant you were managing his business as efficiently as possible. If you failed, it meant he wasn’t getting the most out of his investment,” (Brenner, 2000 pg. 191). Given the military-like way in which Forrest ran Mars, Inc., it would surprise me if the company did anything that was not also benefiting them financially (Brenner, 2000 pg. 190-191). Mars, Inc. themselves said that “cacao farmers produce less than 20 percent of the output they could achieve under perfect conditions with best practices,” so it is not an unfair assumption to make that perhaps Mars, Inc. may be focused on increasing their profits with the cocoa research, and not necessarily “the lives cacao farmers around the world,” (Ternus-Bellamy, 2000 paragraph 13; Boykin, 2019 paragraph 5). On a more theoretical note, let’s say that Mars, Inc. was funding and conducting research on cacao in order to produce better cacao and higher profits, would that necessarily be a bad thing? Does it matter if the major chocolate companies care about the farmers on a human level if their actions as a company benefit the farmers? These are difficult questions that may go forever unanswered, but setting that aside, the research that is being conducted by Mars, Inc. and UC Davis is creating lasting, positive change in the cacao industry (Filmer, 2019, paragraph 4-7).


Learning more about Mars, Inc. role in cacao research, and their relationship with UC Davis was quite fascinating for me as a Davis native, and a member of this course. I had always known that UC Davis was a major research institution for agriculture, but I did not know they were involved in cacao research as well (Filmer, 2019 paragraph 4). I was initially interested in Brenner’s ‘The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars’ when we discussed it during Unit 2, so I was eager to learn more about Mars. Inc’s involvement in my own town. Moreover, I found it interesting to learn more about the work that a major chocolate company like Mars, Inc. is doing to support cacao research. It is my hope that the research being conducted by Mars, Inc. and UC Davis will continue to “develop more productive, resilient and profitable cocoa that improves the livelihoods of farmers and reduces negative impacts on the environment,” (Filmer, 2019 paragraph 6). I will just have to wait to see what Mars, Inc. and UC Davis do in the future to improve cocoa farming!


Post Sources:

Boykin, S. (2019, March 19). Mars Inc. collaborates with UC Davis on new research facility. Retrieved May 3, 2019, from

Brenner, J. (2000). The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and

Mars (chapters 5, 13 pp. 49-69, 179-194). New York, NY: Random House.

Martin, C. (2019). Lecture 7 [PowerPoint presentation]. Retrieved from course website.

Filmer, A. (2019, March 21). New Research Facility for Mars, Inc. and UC Davis. Retrieved May 3, 2019, from

Hebets, J. (2015, June 15). Mars, Incorporated and UC Davis Launch Innovation Institute for Food and Health. Retrieved May 3, 2019, from

Ternus-Bellamy, A. (2019, March 20). Mars cocoa hub means more partnerships with UCD researchers. Retrieved May 3, 2019, from

Image Sources: provided the image of the building that will house the research and development ‘hub’ for Mars, Inc. provided the image of Frank Mars and his mother Elva and the image of the Milky Way advertisement @Mars UK News on twitter provided the tweet celebrating Forrest Mars

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