5 Bitter Truths About Chocolate

#2. The Mars Family is Insane

What do you think is the biggest chocolate company in the world? Hershey, right? Wrong. Mars, Inc. is four times the size of Hershey (they make the Milky Way, Snickers, Mars Bar, plus countless other products). And they got there via pure insanity.

"The secret ingredient is the government is trying to steal my health! I can taste colors!"

The company was started by Frank C. Mars out of nothing, Mars probably earning his first penny selling sugar-coated twigs to schoolchildren. So magnificently tight-assed was he that he poured every dollar into the slowly-growing business at the expense of his marriage and his relationship with his son, Forrest. When the two finally reunited after more than a decade of estrangement, Frank promptly sent Forrest off to Europe to expand the company. Then Frank died.

Forrest Mars then set himself up in a one-room factory in England and made chocolates--at a huge cost to his family. He eventually had to send them away because he couldn't afford to feed and house them. But it would all be worth it, as he would soon stumble upon the innovation that would make his career: candy-coated chocolates you now know as M&M's. And of course, shenanigans were involved.

"They melt in your mouth! Does that even mean anything? SOMEBODY BUY THESE!"

Forrest manipulated an executive from rival Hershey into helping him produce M&M's, by offering to make the guy a partner. As proof, he offered to put the guy's name on the candy (the Hershey guy's name was Bruce Murrie, so M&M's stands for Mars & Murrie's). Then, once M&M's were a huge success and Mars had everything he wanted from Hershey, he proceeded to treat Murrie like shit until he quit.

Forrest then had his own children. The kids of this real-life Willy Wonka, by the way, were never allowed to eat a single M&M. No, he wasn't worried about tooth decay or grimy fingers contaminating a batch of candy. He was just cheap. Forrest demanded perfection from his kids and ran his business like a Soviet gulag. One improperly wrapped piece of chocolate, a Mars bar without enough caramel, or even a pin-sized hole in a chocolate coating, and he, very reasonably, would go to the factory floor, fly into a rage, trash the place and reduce his workers to whimpering in the fetal position.

That barely scratches the surface of the Mars family craziness that continues to this very day.

Like this but, we imagine, not as troublingly erotic.

The entire operation, now on its fourth generation of Mars family ownership, is run as if it has OCD. Millions of M&M's get thrown straight into the garbage if the M symbol isn't perfect. You know, those little candies you shovel into your face 10 at a time without glancing at them. The company is so secretive that they won't share their financial records with their own bankers. They won't go public for fear of having to tell stockholders what's going on.

Why are they so paranoid? Well...

#1. Chocolate Plays Dirty

Like many tech-related industries, chocolate companies rely on secret technology, known to exist only by their patents, in order to get an edge on the competition. Also like their tech-heavy counterparts, Big Chocolate aren't above blurring the line between candy company and crime syndicate.

Holy shit we would watch this movie.

Remember when Willy Wonka closed his factories to outsiders and replaced his entire workforce with an orange dwarf sweatshop because he was worried about rivals stealing his secrets? It turns out that Roald Dahl, the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, was drawing upon the actual behavior of companies such as Nestle and Rowntree, who were well known for sending spies, posing as workers, into factories to steal trade secrets. As a result, both began to guard their chocolate making processes very carefully.

Toblerone and Nestle would have done well to follow suit. Remember when Forrest Mars went to Europe to begin his own chocolate empire? He simply got a job with Toblerone first, then with Nestle, learned all their secrets and got the hell out of there. Most importantly, he learned never to let outsiders into his factories. If he absolutely had to, he made visiting workers enter and leave by the same way and forced them to wear blindfolds.

"Hey, before I fill out my W-9 and whatnot, I just want to be sure: This is a fucking candy company, right?"

The paranoia came to a crescendo when a Nestle product called Magic (which they themselves ripped off from an Italian treat called Kinder Surprise) was forced off the market when the U.S. Government feared it would become a choking hazard. Certain that the Mars company was somehow behind this, Nestle chairman Helmut Maucher sent out his own spies, private detectives and winged monkeys, to get to the bottom of it.

Mars' executives were followed, conversations were eavesdropped upon, phone records were obtained and dumpsters were raided. Nestle agents were placed strategically all over a restaurant where executives were dining so someone would be certain to be within earshot of the conversation.

See if you can spot the Nestle spy in this picture.

Crazy, right? Not really. Mars actually was behind the death of the chocolate toy egg thing, and since Nestle had already lost millions on the product, Mars didn't really need to give a shit.

They've since come to terms, apparently. In 2008, federal regulators in Germany, Canada and the U.S. investigated several chocolate companies, including Hershey, Mars, Cadbury and Nestle, for price fixing.

Executives from rival companies, according to one affidavit, have been meeting in coffee shops since 2001 (or possibly earlier) in order to set prices, meaning we all probably paid too much for every candy bar this past decade. Motivating this uneasy alliance, most likely, was an increase in the cost of cacao and milk, and the more or less unchanged level of chocolate sales.

Or maybe they just like money.

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And find out the truth behind the stuff that's supposed to be good for you, in 8 Health Foods That Are Bad For Your Health. And find out what's really in your food, in 5 Horrifying Food Additives You've Probably Eaten Today.

And stop by our Top Picks (Updated 07.14.10) to see Jack chocolate wrestle Dan for rights to the O'Brien name.

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