- Mars Wrigley will be closing the original Mars factory in Chicago, which still makes M&Ms, Twix, Snickers, Milky Way and Skittles, the company confirmed. The closure, first reported by a Chicago CBS station, will happen during the next two years. The production will be moved to other manufacturing facilities.
- There are currently about 280 employees working at the factory, a company spokesperson said. They will be encouraged to apply for other open roles at Mars, Incorporated. The company has two other large food manufacturing operations in the Chicago area, which is also home to its food business's corporate headquarters. In Illinois, Mars, Incorporated, has a pet nutrition manufacturing site and 65 veterinary hospitals.
- Mars Wrigley has a long history intertwined with the city of Chicago. As individual companies prior to their 2016 merger, each confectioner has had a major presence in the city for almost a century.
The Mars Wrigley factory that will be closing its doors in the next two years can trace its history back to Mars founder Frank Mars's decision to move his candy company from Minneapolis to the Windy City.
The sprawling factory, built on 16 acres in Chicago's Galewood neighborhood and initially purchased from a golf club, started producing chocolate in 1928, according to the industrial chronicle website Made In Chicago Museum. It was Mars's first factory in Chicago, and employed more than 300 people. At the time of its construction and for a generation after it was built, it was said to be the nation's largest candy factory.
It's unclear why Mars Wrigley would want to close the factory now. The international food giant, which has a portfolio of confectionery, dinner and snacking and pet food brands, is privately held and is not required to report its earnings or sales figures.
"As we continuously evaluate our footprint across North America, our Associates were informed yesterday of the decision to move the majority of operations to other facilities in the U.S. over the next two years,” a Mars Wrigley spokesperson said in a statement emailed on Tuesday.
From outward appearances, it would seem Mars Wrigley's business has done well through the pandemic. According to Statista, Mars, Incorporated, was the world's best-selling candy company in 2020, with $20 billion in net sales.
The whole segment also has been doing well. In 2020, chocolate sales were up 4.2% compared to a year before, according to the National Confectioners Association. Mainstream chocolate — non-premium treats including M&Ms and Snickers bars — was purchased by 83% of chocolate consumers, according to an NCA survey conducted last August. In addition, Mars Wrigley has rolled out several new and innovative treats in the last year, such as Starburst Airs.
However, changes in business models and product lines, as well as increased automation and technology, could certainly lead to plant closures and layoffs. Other big food companies have announced layoffs among factory workers in the recent past for these reasons.
Earlier this month, Tyson announced it was laying off 200 workers at a Kentucky poultry plant as the company changed the product mix at the site. Mondelēz International shuttered two older bakery plants during the summer — one in Atlanta and one in New Jersey — because the company said the locations were no longer geographically strategic and the plants had operational challenges, including aging infrastructure that would require “significant investment” to be modernized.
The Chicago Mars Wrigley plant that is closing has been well regarded for its unique Spanish-style architecture. Interest in using the unique building for something other than manufacturing may also be a reason the plant is closing. After all, B&G Foods made a similar choice earlier this year, shuttering its more-than-century-old B&M factory in Portland, Maine and selling the building to a nonprofit that runs Northeastern University's Roux Institute. Through the institute, the B&M factory will be renovated and converted into incubator space for business startups.
A Mars spokesperson said in an email the company "intends to partner with the surrounding community on a future vision for the site," which could herald a variety of uses.