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Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat with burning, unanswered questions about M&M's? Sure you do; we’ve all been there. The candy coated milk chocolate sensation is one of the most popular treats on the planet.

Where do they get their name? What company is behind them? How long have they been around? Sleep easy tonight. Here’s everything you need to know about M&M's. 

M & M Mars Candy Headquarters
Photo credit: M & M Mars Candy Headquarters by Jimmy Emerson, DVM (None)

Who owns M&M's?

Though often believed to be owned by Hershey, M&M's are actually owned by Mars Wrigley Confectionery, a subsidiary of the Mars family’s empire. Mars, Inc. has given us such hits as the Mars Bar, 3 Musketeers, and Bubble Tape, to name a few.

When were M&M's invented?

Forrest Mars of the Mars company allegedly visited Spain during the Spanish Civil War in the 30s. Noticing that soldiers were eating chocolate coated with a candy shell to prevent melting, he was inspired to get to work on his own that would "melt in your mouth, not in your hand."

M&M's were introduced in 1941 and sold exclusively to the U.S. Army, which provided them to soldiers in cardboard tubes with their rations. It wasn't until after World War II that Mars began selling them to us civilians in bag form, and they were an immediate hit. Such a big hit in fact, that imitators arose right away. In 1950, to distinguish itself from the rest, M&M began stamping its candies with a little "M" and changed its marketing forever.

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When were peanut M&M's invented?

Not long after M&M's hit the market, the peanut variety had landed. In 1956, the signature yellow bag joined the brown. (Ironically, Forest Mars was supposedly allergic to peanuts.) The M&M line expanded from there, with mint showing up in the 80s, peanut butter in the 90s, and a deluge of wild inventions from the 2000s and beyond.

What do the M's stand for in M&M's?

The “M”s are actually initials. Forrest Mars sourced the chocolate with a man named Bruce Murrie (the son of Hershey Chocolate’s president William F. R. Murrie), and they named the candy after themselves: Mars & Murrie.

How many M&M's come in a bag?

A standard bag of M&M's that weighs 1.6 ounces most often holds about 56 pieces of candy.

Are M&M's gluten-free?

Plain M&M's are completely gluten-free. This isn’t the case for the entire line though, since some varieties contain gluten-laden ingredients like pretzels.

Why did they stop making red M&M's?

In 1976, America was heavily invested in removing Red No. 2 food dye from our diets, as the FDA had recently announced it could lead to cancer. M&M's never actually used Red No. 2, but figured it would only turn people off and discontinued the color for 11 years, until red M&M's were brought back in 1987 following extensive public outcry. 

Were M&M's the first candy in space?

They sure were. The same reason M&M's made for great wartime snacks proved incredibly useful for space travel as well, and when the space shuttle Colombia went to outer space in 1981, M&M's were along for the ride.

Ironically, when Steven Spielberg and "E.T." showed up in 1982, M&M's was the original candy that the alien was supposed to be infatuated with. In one of the most boneheaded moves of the Mars company's career, they refused to give up the rights to its candy and the movie decided to immortalize Reese's Pieces instead.

What's the deal with the M&M mascot controversy?

M&M's candy mascots (or "spokescandies," if you will), which were introduced in 1954 (some may remember the "Which Hand?" commercial) and new colorful characters joined the team in the 1990s, have been the subject of a lot of debate in recent years. After a little marketing makeover gave the M&M characters some updates (like... shoes) in early 2022, many right-wing conservatives lost their minds, claiming that once again the liberal agenda had taken things a step too far. 

Later in 2022, candymaker Mars inadvertently stirred up more controversy when it introduced a purple peanut M&M, the first new character added to the lineup in over a decade. In a release, the company explained that the new purple mascot was designed to "represent acceptance and inclusivity." Mars also released a limited edition all-female character package to “celebrate women everywhere who are flipping the status quote,” with a portion of the profits going to non-profit organizations that support women in the music industry. 

Once again, conservative talk show hosts were apoplectic over the new character, with Tucker Carlson declaring that “woke M&M’s have returned” and suggesting that the new purple peanut M&M was obese.

In light of the ongoing controversies, Mars decided to put all of M&M's candy mascots on an indefinite pause in January 2023, in what many see as a cowardly response, though the company claims that M&M's only wants to bring people together. In place of the mascots, the company announced that actress Maya Rudolph will be the new M&M's spokesperson.

The "indefinite pause" was short-lived, however, as a Super Bowl commercial featuring the M&M's mascots announced that they were back less than a month later. It seems the pause was all part of a big marketing stunt.

All this fighting over some stupid M&M character designs, yet I've still been seeing that movie theater commercial with them tied to a nuclear rocket for what seems like the last 100 years.

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