Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Fighting over sugar
But all this was nothing in comparison to the 'wars' between American chocolatiers Hershey and Mars. Hershey, of course, makes Hershey bars and Kisses and Reese's; Mars makes pretty much everything else: Snickers, Three Musketeers, M&M's, etc. And while there are other companies such as Nestle, this book focuses more on the two major American companies (although there's plenty of history on the whole industry), their triumphs and mistakes, and the fierce competition between them. Corporate espionage? These guys wrote the book! But it's not all business, there are lots of mouth-watering stories here, like how the problem of combining milk and chocolate was resolved (milk is water-based and chocolate is an oil, and everyone knows water and oil don't mix). You also find out how Reese's Peanut-Butter Cups are made and the secrets of getting the M's just right on the M&M's.
Milton Hershey and the Mars family are fascinating as well. Hershey was a generous philanthropist who established his own city around an orphanage and amusement park, while the Mars family was secretive and suspicious - possibly to the point of mental illness - but they had the better heads for business. In fact, Hershey failed to take advantage of a golden opportunity following WWII - they had guaranteed servicemen would be able to get a nickel Hershey bar anywhere in the world, and a lot of those bars went into the mouths of local children which created a market they ignored, and Mars filled the international market when Hershey declined to do so. Mars was also smarter when cocoa prices skyrocketed, creating candy bars that contained far less chocolate (like Three Musketeers and Snickers) than a solid Hershey bar. But Mars was so suspicious and paranoid that they refused a young filmmaker’s request to use M&M's in a strange movie about a boy who befriends an alien and Hershey stepped in with Reese's Pieces, scoring a huge marketing coup.
I enjoyed this book so much that I finished it while on vacation at the beach even though it was a homework assignment! One caution, however: be certain to have a good supply of sweets on hand. Just reading about all that candy is enough to make your mouth water!