How Mars, Inc. Is Minting a New Legacy
For the world’s largest food and beverage companies, the push for a more responsible and sustainable supply chain is as much about long-term survival as it is about addressing current concerns expressed by investors and other key stakeholders.
But while much of the conversation about sustainable food usually centers on ingredients such as cocoa, coffee, soy, palm oil, and beef, Mars, Inc. can point to one ingredient that epitomizes the company’s drive to scale impact where it can to secure a healthy planet and thriving farming communities: Mint.
So why mint?
Mint is an essential flavoring for many of Mars’ products, as the company says it uses the ingredient in 65 percent of gum and candy products across 15 brands. Those names include Altoids mints and Wrigley, Extra, and Orbit chewing gums. The millions of consumers who enjoy Mars’ products – and have for generations – help keep thousands of farmers in the U.S., Canada, and India employed. And those family farmers contribute to a mint industry that is worth at least $700 million worldwide.
But today, mint farmers are confronting several hurdles to their family businesses, such as soil health, water scarcity, crop disease, and changing weather patterns. Mars believes working with these farmers and their communities can serve as a case study for the company’s “Sustainable in a Generation” plan, which tackles big areas of impact like climate change, water consumption, land use, women’s empowerment, and boosting the incomes of people who work within the company’s global supply chain.
"From both a heart perspective and head perspective, our company faces long-term risk if we don’t address farmers’ challenges,” said Alastair Child, vice president of global sustainability at Mars Wrigley Confectionery during a phone conversation with CR Magazine from his Chicago office. “Our work with mint farmers is one example of how we can embed sustainability throughout our supply chain, and do far more than just purchasing goods - in fact, we want to work even closer with our suppliers.”
To that end, Mars has embarked on a strategy for mint farmers that seeks three goals by 2025: Advance mint plant science, decrease water consumption by 30 percent in water-stressed areas where mint is grown and improve smallholder farmers’ incomes.
The program encapsulating this strategy is AdvanceMint, by which Mars seeks to tackle these challenges by developing more resilient mint plants. Child explained that this collaboration with experts in agriculture, economics, and supply chains can help address the challenges confronting the one million mint farmers worldwide, and in the end help equip them with improved agricultural practices while building more resilient communities.
“It’s important to remember that this program is about more than boosting incomes,” said Child. “We’re working beyond the supply chain, with both farmers and their families. For example, in India, we’re organizing more than 200 self-help groups for women so they can connect, access information and capital, and gain farming and other livelihood skills.”
In particular, the program seeks to advance social impact in India’s Uttar Pradesh state, long a crucial region for mint farming. Farmers in India’s most populous state are largely subsistence farmers and mint could offer a valuable cash crop for them to increase their income. But at a macroeconomic level, earnings are still low and these farmers confront several challenges such as water stress and stress on farms – while gender inequality and educational disparity are still the norm across farming communities.
Agricultural productivity is high on the agenda Mars has set for this region, but Childs explained that the company needs to do even more to ensure communities home to mint growers can become stronger. One way the company seeks to succeed on this front is by expanding education programs.
One such tactic is a partnership between the Wrigley Company Foundation and Indian nonprofit Pratham, which offers literacy and other basic educational skills across 1,200 mint farming villages in a drive to have an impact on the lives of over 50,000 children a year. In addition, the company is working with suppliers on additional programs designed to strengthen social capital, such the establishment of new village libraries, where books, internet access, safe drinking water and livelihood skills training are available.
The strategy for mint farmers is slightly different for those based in the United States and Canada, from which Mars sources the ingredient indirectly from about 300 farms that together grow the crop on approximately 100,000 acres. The company is rolling out a program with universities in mint-growing states that aim to strengthen connections between its current and future farmers and consumers. Mars’ goal in North America is to expose students to sustainable agricultural practices that some mint farmers have already adopted so that they can establish a deeper connection between those who grow our food and those who consume it.
CR Magazine asked Child whether all this focus on one small ingredient really merits all this fuss.
“Why not?” Child asked rhetorically. “Remember that this is about our long-term business objectives. This is a family-owned company, and we’re worried about what our business will look like in the decades ahead. This isn’t about generating headlines. It’s about ensuring raw materials so that this company can help future generations thrive. We’ve been around 100 years, and we’d like to be around for another 100.”