Forrest Mars, Sr., son of Frank Mars (of Snickers fame) got the idea for M&M’s when he saw Spanish Civil War soldiers eating chocolate pellets with a hard shell of tempered chocolate surrounding the inside, effectively making the candy melt in their mouths, not in their hands. In a time with no air conditioning to protect his chocolate candies, this was obviously a fantastic idea. Mars received a patent and started work on the candy. After entering a partnership with Bruce Murrie (the other M, actually, and son of a Hershey executive), the new confection went into production in 1941 in Newark, New Jersey. Since there was a war on, the partnership allowed the candies to be made with Hershey’s, who controlled the chocolate ration. When operations were started, the first M&M’s were made in five colors and served in a cardboard tube. During the war, only the military was allowed access to our precious cargo of M&M’s. There is some talk about them being a “high energy snack” for these soldiers, but I’m pretty sure they were just tasty. Post-war, it wasn’t long before the US fell in love with M&M’s and forced the factory to move into larger quarters. In 1948, M&M’s packaging got a makeover and the Ms were enclosed in a classic brown bag.
In 1950, the very first black “M” was imprinted on the candies, changing the lives of M’s everywhere. The stamp was changed to white in 1954. Some things just look better in white (see: Apple).
In the early 1950s, science perfected a process that allowed huge amounts of chocolate centers to be coated every hour. Peanut M&M’s were introduced in 1954, but for some reason were only made in the tan color. It was not until the 1960’s that other colors were added. Either someone really liked earth tones, or it is more difficult than it seems to add color. 1954 also brought us the tagline “melts in your mouth, not in your hand” and the M&M’s characters made their television debut.
If you think concerns over food colorings are a new thing, think again. Red M&M’s were given the boot in 1976 due to concerns that the food dye was a carcinogen, and the orange M&M made its debut. M&M’s actually didn’t contain the dye, but consumer concerns were enough to dump the offending red. Fortunately, red returned later and orange was there to stay.
In 1980, M&M’s were introduced internationally to Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. In 1982, realizing that no one should be without M&M’s just because they were in space, the candy was sent into space for the first time, and have since been a part of all missions. In 1984, they were named the official snack food of the Los Angeles, CA, Olympic Games.
In 1991, Peanut Butter M&M’s were released and the world rejoiced. I still get excited when given the opportunity to eat peanut butter M&M’s. In 1995, in a promotion I remember clearly, Mars asked consumers to vote on which of blue, pink, or purple would replace the tan M&M’s. Blue took home the title, replacing tan. I don’t recall which one I voted for. I actually miss old tanny. Its easy to forget that they were once a part of the M&M rainbow.
In 1999, Crispy M&M’s were released. They were slightly larger than the milk chocolate variety and featured a crispy rice center that I didn’t care much for. I was glad to see them go, although I know they had some die-hard fans.
In 2000, “Plain” M&M’s were renamed “Milk Chocolate” M&M’s. I actually didn’t notice this when it happened. I don’t know anyone who calls them “Milk Chocolate M&M’s” instead of “Plain”. In 2002, Mars solicited votes in the “M&M’s Global Color Vote” to add a new color from three choices which were oddly reminiscent of the 1995 vote: aqua, pink, and purple.
Through the rest of the 00’s, M&M’s ran a ton of promotions around movies, including: Star Wars Episode III, Shrek 2, Indiana Jones, Transformers, and Pirates of the Caribbean. 2005 brought the release of one of my personal favorites: dark chocolate.
M&M’s also introduced another new line of “M&M’s Premiums” in 2008. I have never tried these, as they sort of seemed like the Arch Deluxe of the candy world and I never feel grown up enough for those things. They come in five flavors – chocolate almond, mint chocolate, mocha, raspberry almond and triple chocolate (milk, dark, and white chocolate), which are sold in upright cartons with a plastic bag inside. M&M’s Premiums do not have a candy shell, but are coated with classy carnauba wax.
In 2009, M&M’s launched two of my very favorite varieties of M&M’s: a limited-edition “Strawberried Peanut Butter” and “Coconut”. In April 2010, “Pretzel” was launched and was well-received by me (and many others).
M&M’s are generally tops for me. I read that Pretzel M&M’s do not have any yellow, which I have never, and probably would never notice because I’m always too busy shoveling them into my big ol’ maw. I buy many single bags of M&M’s at work (not on the same day… usually). I’m also a big fan of M&M Minis and I’ve been known to pick them off of cookies and throw the actual cookie away. Meh, cookies. I love that they release new varieties all the time and I applaud the decision to make Coconut a standard flavor.
A bag of plain M&M’s in the classic size contains 240 calories, 10 grams of fat, 6 grams of saturated fat, 30 milligrams of sodium, 31 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein. Nutritional information differs for all other varieties.