When you’ve been around for as long as M&M’s have, you’re bound to have some great stories to tell.
And if you’re as smart as the M&M’s brand is, you’ll work those stories into your packaging. We’ve covered plenty of brands and their packaging in our iconic packaging series, but it takes something special for a brand to become such a memorable part of a nation’s history. And it all starts back in 1941.
The development of M&M’s came about when Forrest Mars Sr., son of Frank C. Mars (founder of the Mars Company), witnessed Spanish soldiers eating Smarties candies during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. Upon returning home, he developed and patented his own technique for hard panning (using hardened sugar syrup as a shell to prevent its filling from melting) in 1941.
Each “M” in M&M’s refers to one of two people: Forrest Mars Sr., owner of M&M’s, and Bruce Murrie, who had a 20% share in the company. By giving Murrie an ownership stake, they were able to use Hersey chocolate in their candy. Due to World War II, Hersey had control of rationed chocolate.
Featuring a brown candy shell, M&M’s were housed in what would become its most iconic packaging design: a patterned cardboard tube.
Both the candy and the partnership caught the eye of the U.S. Army, who wanted their soldiers to have access to chocolate even in tropical climates. As a result, in the first of many history-making moments to come, M&M’s were sold exclusively to the American military during the war, becoming a part of standard-issue military rations.
Brown M&M’s Pouch
1948 saw the introduction of the candy pouch that M&M’s still uses to this day. Two years later, 1950 would be the first time the iconic (and now trademarked) “M” is imprinted in black onto their candies.
1954 would prove to be a huge, brand-defining year for the candy. The also-iconic tagline, “Melts in Your Mouth, Not in Your Hand” debuted, and the now-famous M&M’s characters made their first TV appearances. The imprinted “M” would change to the classic white ink we all know today, and Peanut M&M’s would join the family lineup (along with neutral “tan” colour).
New candy colours—red, green and yellow—joined the existing brown in 1960. 16 years later, orange appeared in candy pouches to compensate for the removal of the colour red. The FDA banned the colour during the “red dye scare” when red dyes #2 and #4 were found to be carcinogenic.
A fun little tidbit: M&M’s Fruit Chews debuted in the ‘60s—they were eventually renamed Starburst.
In a second history-making moment for M&M’s, 1982 saw the hard-shelled candies added to the supply cache of every space shuttle mission. And in 1986, long after replacement red dyes were introduced, a public campaign (initially started as a joke) convinced M&M’s to re-add the colour back into the mix.
1998 brought about a third history-making moment, when M&M’s became a fixture of the American presidency. Consisting of red, white and blue colours, the new collection would be handed out to guests of POTUS onboard Air Force One or while visiting other presidential locations. They quickly replaced cigarettes as the official gift of choice.
With the Seal of the President of the United States on one side of the box, one of the M&M’s characters would is shown holding the flag of the United States on the other. Former President Bill Clinton started the evergreen custom of adding the sitting President’s signature underneath the presidential seal.
In 2004, My M&M’s was launched—an online store where consumers can design their own personalized M&M’s with customized messaging. In 2008, the debut of FACES lets customers upload pictures and clipart for printing as well. The My M&M’s service now offers over 20 candy colours, pre-made clipart and occasion-themed candies (weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and more).
One last fun tidbit: 4 million M&M’s are made every minute in the company’s New Jersey factory.
Plenty of brands have packaging that’s instantly recognizable, highly coveted or changed how their competitors do business. But how many brands can say their product and its packaging has woven itself so well in a country’s identity? M&M’s stands as one of the few.
What’s your pick for iconic packaging? We’d love to showcase it!