Inside Mars’ New Global R&D Center in Chicago

Progressive Grocer tours chocolate innovation hub
Lynn Petrak
Senior Editor
a woman smiling for the camera
Mars bar line
The new global R&D hub for chocolate and nuts in Chicago includes a state-of-the-art barline that mimics factory conditions.

Steps inside a new $42 million Mars, Inc. global research and development hub on Chicago’s famed Goose Island, a display of early candy bar packaging and 1940s-era production line photos greets visitors. A recent grand opening tour of that facility on the Mars/Wrigley campus also included a brief, fascinating presentation on the history of chocolate in the United States and around the world.

While Mars is a legacy confection company that celebrates its century-long past, it is also an organization that is keenly aware of and investing in future opportunities. The new R&D hub at the headquarters of Mars’s snacking business is home to chocolate innovations across brands including Snickers, M&M’s and Twix and features state-of-the-art equipment and tools that will guide the future of snacking and candy production.

[Read more: “PepsiCo Shares Its Sustainability Game Plan at NRF Show”]

At the unveiling of the innovation center, Progressive Grocer got an inside look at some of the latest production technologies, including a first-of-its-kind flexible barline setup and a dedicated nut kitchen that highlights the company’s efforts to create and test sweets with peanuts and tree nuts while preventing cross-contamination from allergens. Mars R&D experts also walked visitors through the panning process for M&M, from the perfection of hardened inside chocolate to the application of the hard candy shell and the top-secret addition of the “m” stamp. 

The center includes 5,000 square feet of flexible white space, which can be set up to quickly test new technologies, like the latest ovens and sustainability methods. Technology is at the core of many of the strategically engineered rooms, where important data points are captured to help food scientists make informed decisions and improve efficiencies. 

According to Mars, the center will play a key role in helping the company achieve its goal of doubling its snacking business over the next decade. “This state-of-the-art facility will serve as the epicentre for the kind of groundbreaking research and development that will shape the snacking category for generations to come. 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,” said Andrew Clark, global president of Mars Snacking. 

In addition to providing a peek at testing and sampling spaces, Mars underscored its commitment to sustainability. The R&D hub is LEED Silver Certified and 100% powered by renewable energy, sourced from the company’s wind farm in Ford Ridge, Ill. Visitors also got to bring home M&M’s packaged in a new compostable bag.

The Chicago hub is one of Mars’ global innovation sites focused on the future of snacking. Other locations include Elizabethtown, Pa., Guangzhou, China; Huariou, China and Slough, United Kingdom.

Mars Global R&D Hub in Chicago

Progressive Grocer is on TikTok

@progressivegrocer We got a tour of the Mars Global Innovation Center in Chicago today for an inside look at the latest chocolate innovations across brands like Snickers, M&Ms, Twix and more!!! #FutureofSnacking #ChocolateFactory #candyland #behindthescenes ♬ CANDY FACTORY(1041523) - Scoring Heroes
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