Mars Debuts Global Research & Development Hub

Convenience Store News gets an inside look at the state-of-the-art Chicago facility.
Mars Global Research & Development Hub

CHICAGO — You’ve probably never considered how the candy you stock in your convenience store is transformed from a sweet idea into the wrapped and boxed confections that line your store’s shelves. And your candy-loving customers likely don't give much thought to how those crunchy peanuts get inside Peanut M&M'S or how those nutty nougat layers end up covered in chocolate in always consistently-sized Snickers bars.

Those are just two of the "secrets" Convenience Store News was on hand to hear during the Jan. 18 grand opening of Mars' Global Research and Development Hub on its Goose Island campus in Chicago, the global headquarters of the company's snacking business

"The Future of Snacking" was the theme of the event, which kicked off with opening remarks from Andrew Clarke, global president of Mars Snacking. "This state-of-the-art facility will serve as the epicenter for the kind of groundbreaking research and development that will shape the snacking category for generations to come," he told the crowd.

"Innovation has been at the heart of our success for over 100 years, and this significant investment reaffirms our unwavering commitment to staying ahead of the curve,” he continued. "With an assembly of trailblazing associates, pioneering partnerships that ignite our creativity and unparalleled technology at our fingertips, we will continue to push boundaries in our relentless pursuit of delivering extraordinary experiences for our consumers around the world."

Building on Clarke's remarks, Chief Procurement, Sustainability and R&D Officer Amanda Davies discussed how the facility will play a pivotal role in helping the company achieve its Net Zero Roadmap and other Mars sustainability goals. The world-class facility, designed with sustainability top of mind, will be powered 100% by renewable energy that is fossil-fuel free and covered by renewable energy credits from Mars' wind farm in Ford Ridge, Ill. 

Mars Global Research & Development Hub

After the official ribbon-cutting, guests toured the 44,000-square-foot, $42 million facility dedicated to chocolate and nut testing, research and innovationThe tour featured stops in the: 

  • Clean Nut Kitchen, where pasteurized peanuts and some tree nuts undergo special testing, evaluation and processing; 
  • Prototype Test Kitchen, where ideas for new confections are developed and tested; 
  • Panning Room, where M&M'S get their signature candy shell in a process that can take up to five hours; and 
  • Pilot Product Line, a flexible, first-of-its-kind line that mimics factory conditions and is capable of innovating an endless potential of bar treats and can produce M&M'S centers.

As Mars looks to double its snacking business in the next decade, the new facility will give the company's 300 R&D associates in Chicago runway to create and refine new products before they are scaled at large around the globe. 

The Global Research and Development Hub is designed to not just keep up with the evolving snacking landscape and rapidly shifting consumer demands, but rather stay ahead — something particularly important to convenience store retailers.

[Read more: Mars Wrigley Unwraps New Innovations

"The new facility is best-in-class. It will centralize crucial innovation components under one roof while also serving as a testing ground for future-focused, sustainable ingredients and packaging," James Mills, vice president of global sales at Mars, told Convenience Store News

"At Mars, our innovations are consumer- and shopper-led, and this has helped us achieve a century of success. With a stable of iconic household brands, we've always worked to stay culturally relevant and meet the shopper’s needs through research and insights," he added. "We collaborate closely with our retail partners to improve the omnichannel shopping experience and co-create the snacking aisle of the future in both digital and physical places, delighting customers and driving growth." 

Mars has a long history in Chicago. The company opened its first largescale factory in the Windy City in 1929, which ushered in the launch of Snickers in 1930, 3 Musketeers in 1932, and M&M'S first made for the U.S. military in 1941.

The Global Research and Development Hub joins Mars' network of existing global innovation sites in Guangzhou, China; Huariou, China; Slough, United Kingdom; and Elizabethtown, Pa.  

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