What’s your favorite M&M candy?
Some might say the classic milk chocolate M&M is the best.
Others will tell you it’s Peanut M&Ms for life.
And of course, you’re going to run into someone who absolutely adores M&M Minis as both a snack and dessert topping.
Whatever M&M candy tickles your taste buds, one thing’s for sure, this sweet treat is a staple of American culture and continues to hold a special place in the hearts of all those who truly love candy.
This led us to one question: where did M&Ms come from and how have they continued to reign supreme in candy stores for decades? So we did some secret candy research and found out everything there is to know about M&Ms and their sweet history.
Let’s dive in!
Who created M&Ms?
The idea for M&M came from Forrest Mars Sr. (son of Frank C. Mars, founder of Mars Candy Company) in the 1930s. During this time, he noticed British soldiers eating Smarties—chocolate pellets with a hard shell.
This hard shell was created by panning or hardening sugar which kept the chocolate center on the inside of the candy intact. After doing some research and development, Mars patented his own panning process and began production of the first M&Ms in 1941 in Newark, NJ.
Why are they called M&Ms?
The name M&M came from the two M&Ms that collaborated on the project: Forrest Mars Sr. and Bruce Murrie (son of Hershey’s President William F.R Murrie). Because Hershey’s controlled a majority of the chocolate in the United States at the time, Mars gave Murrie a 20% share in M&M with the arrangement that M&Ms would be made with Hershey’s Chocolate exclusively.
In 1949, M&Ms introduced their iconic tagline, “melt in your mouth, not in your hand” which would go on to remain their tagline to this day.
The early history of M&M candy…
The first major customer of M&Ms was the U.S. Army which used it as a way to give chocolate to soldiers without it melting in the field. It was seen as a quick pick-me-up and dessert for soldiers that were on the go, living in often hot conditions.
It was common for many confectionery companies during this time to produce candy for the army, but during WWII, M&Ms were exclusively sold to the Army. You couldn’t find them on a store shelf or checkout counter as the Army had contracted out the entire production of all M&Ms.
Source: NJ Advanced Media
After WWII, M&Ms were widely popular amongst the American people which spawned the counterfeiting of M&Ms from a variety of other confectionery companies. This led to the development of the iconic M that you see on M&Ms today.
Originally the M was black and stamped on every piece of candy in the package. Then in 1954, they switched the M to white to give it a distinct and recognizable look that counterfeiters couldn’t replicate. From there, M&M partnered with The Midwest Research Institute, who worked on behalf of Mars to perfect the candy-coating process which resulted in 3,300lbs of chocolate centers getting coated every hour.
Yeah, you read that correctly, 3,300lbs every hour!
M&Ms decides to get nutty…
During the same year that they began the ultimate mass production of M&Ms, the brand also debuted their second-ever product, Peanut M&MS. The chocolate-coated candy added the crunchy and salty flavor of peanuts to the center of every piece of candy. Originally these peanut M&Ms were exclusively tan to represent the color of the roasted peanuts being used in the product. Then in 1960, they added green, yellow, and red colors.
Fun Fact: The famous red color was swapped for orange due to the Red Dye scare during the ‘70s—a time when Red Dye #2 and #4 were evaluated to be carcinogenic in nature.
Though M&M’s used Red Dye #40, which had no link to carcinogens, people were still spooked by the thought, leading the brand to put a pause on red production. Then in 1987, the red color was re-introduced to the public for consumption.
M&Ms expands their product lines…
Fast forward to 1960, when M&Ms debuted another peanut product, this time with almonds. This was short-lived and then brought back in 1988 in a limited release. Then in 1990, it became a standard product in their collection.
In the ‘80s M&M launched holiday candies for Easter and Christmas and swapped the classic M for other seasonal symbols on the chocolate cover like bunnies, eggs, pines, and candles. These symbols were replaced with the M again in 1993.
Rolling into the ‘90s, M&M decided to shrink their classic candy into Mini bites called M&M Minis. A spitting replica of their iconic milk chocolate candy, these tiny treats looked like their older brother but packed a whole new chocolatey flavor into the smallest bite-sized candy on the planet.
As the brand continued to grow in popularity, fans of the candy started to see the M&M logo everywhere. From Times Square ads in NYC to the hood of famous Nascar Drivers, the sweet was a symbol of America’s love for candy.
When the 2000s hit, M&M stepped full stride into research and development with the goal of finding new products that their customers would love. This led to the creation of a slew of different products over the next 10 years including:
- Pretzel M&M's—released in 2010.
- Coffee Nut M&M's—released in 2016.
- Caramel M&M's—released in 2017.
- English Toffee M&M's & Hazelnut Spread M&M's—both released in 2019.
- Fudge Brownie M&Ms—released in 2020.
A colorful breakdown of all the M&M characters.
One thing that stands out about M&Ms and their iconic candy is the color variation and characters. As you’ve now read, colors were an important part of the history of M&Ms, but few folks truly know where these characters came from.
As it turns out, the idea for the characterization of the candy came from artist and animator Will Vinton, in 1995. The brand had already been using the two talking characters, represented by regular M&M and Peanut M&M, but few iterations had been made from the original inception in 1954.
Vinton took it upon himself to not only animate these candy characters but also give them a more grown-up feel by injecting personalities into each character.
- Red is cynical and sarcastic. Known as the mascot for milk chocolate, peanut butter, and crispy M&M's,
- Yellow is happy and gullible. Known as the mascot for Peanut M&M's (he was originally called "Peanut" when first introduced).
- Blue is the cool and collected one. Known as the mascot for Almond M&M's.
- Green was seductive, which was a reference to the ‘70s urban legend that green M&Ms were aphrodisiacs (which had no evidence to support it. Known as the mascot for both Dark Chocolate Mint and Peanut Butter M&M's.
- Orange is slightly neurotic. Originally introduced when Crispy M&M's were first released and returned when Pretzel M&M's debuted in 2010.
- Purple is acceptance and inclusivity. Debuted in 2023 with the M&M Fudge Brownie flavor.
Which M&M candy are you picking?
Today, you can find all kinds of M&M products on store shelves and checkout counters. From their classic flavors to combinations with ice cream, marshmallows, and honey graham, if you love chocolate, you’re bound to find an M&M to match your taste buds.
Speaking of snacking on some sweetness…
Did you know that you can get all your favorite M&M treats right here in our digital aisles? That’s right, all you have to do is tap right here and we’ll arm you with everything you need to be the ultimate M&M fan!