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The World’s Biggest Candy Company Wants You to Eat Less Sugar—Here’s Why

June 21, 2016

On almost every fast-food dessert menu, you’re likely to find at least one treat covered in candy. That could soon change. Customers who love M&Ms in their McFlurry may be out of luck if Mars, Inc., goes through a plan that’s in the works.

According to unnamed industry sources quoted in a Reuters report this week, the conglomerate behind M&M candies is considering halting partnerships with fast-food restaurants that include the candies in their desserts. If the move comes to pass, it wouldn’t be due to a cynical cost-cutting measure. Instead, it’s part of a company-wide initiative to encourage better nutritional choices among its customers.

Mars is reportedly concerned that the branded desserts featuring its candies, including the M&Ms McFlurry at McDonald’s or Burger King’s Snickers pie, shatter—in a single serving—the recommended sugar intake for an entire day. Numerous national and world health agencies have stated that sugar should not comprise more than 10 percent of a person’s total daily calories—a recommendation Mars publicly supported in March.

“We recognize that the health and nutritional challenges facing our society are daunting,” the company wrote in a statement. “As a business, we are hard at work developing an overall health and well-being strategy for our company and our diverse portfolio, and we are committed to being a part of the solution to this challenge.”

In 2008, Mars became the first United States company to list calories and sugar on all products, and in 2013 limited all products to 250 calories per serving—eliminating its line of king-sized candy bars. In March, Mars committed to supporting efforts to include added sugar values on food labels, removing trans fats from its products, and stop marketing its products to children. Pulling products from fast-food menus would be one more positive step, and a continuation of these commitments. (Note, in the Reuters story, a Mars spokesperson would not confirm that the company is in fact taking this step).

The World Health Organization (WHO) issued a “strong” recommendation last year for all people to limit sugars to 10 percent of their daily intake. The recommendation was based on the latest scientific evidence, which shows that a higher sugar intake is associated with obesity and weight gain, while reducing sugars leads to weight loss.

By all accounts, Mars appears to be heading the WHO’s warnings, underscoring the importance of companies voluntarily improving the nutritional content of their products. Other companies—like Nestlé—have reduced the sugar content in products over the years, albeit stealthily, so as not to “spook” customers expecting a certain taste to remain.

These corporate moves are also likely connected to the trend of customers seeking healthier foods for their families. Globally, about two-thirds of consumers are concerned about sugar intake, according to a survey by industry publication Food Navigator.

In other words, the more we demand goodness from the businesses we purchase from, the more likely we are to see the Mars, Inc’s, of the world take heed.

This article is related to:

Food, Health, News, Nutrition

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Steve Holt

Steve Holt's stories about food, nutrition and food politics are found at Civil Eats, TakePart.com, Boston Magazine, and elsewhere. He's been featured in the Best Food Writing anthology. Follow his tweets and Instagrams @thebostonwriter.

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