"A Mars a day
helps you work, rest and play

The Mars bar is one of the more successful and enduring chocolate bars in the UK. Manufactured by Mars (owned by Masterfoods), it acts as the flag-bearer for the corporation in Britain in the same way that M&Ms do in the USA.

Frank and Forrest Mars invented a process for solidifying chocolate malted milk in 1922. They filled it with soft whipped nougat and called it a Milky Way. It was a success, as one of the first affordable chocolate products on the market.

When Forrest went to Britain in 1932 to experiment with his own company, he continued innovating. He took a Milky Way and made it bigger, the nougat a little heavier (though still soft) and added a layer of caramel between the chocolate shell and the filling, at the top. He modestly called his new creation the "Mars bar". N.B. This is pretty similar to what Americans know as a Milky Way nowadays.

The Mars bar seems to have been an instant hit. It sold in Britain and America throughout the 1930s, and was still popular in the 50s, in time for the beginning of advertising. In those immoral days, you could say pretty much anything about a product in order to sell it. Against a background of post-war poverty, Mars realised that they could market the Mars bar as a cheap and healthy alternative to eating real food, aiming especially at parents struggling to afford balanced diets for their children.

According to legend, an employee of Mars uttered the famous phrase in 1959 as a suggestion for a new slogan which summed up everything the Mars bar was supposed to represent. The employee? Murray Walker, later a famous motor racing commentator. The phrase? "A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play". This slogan reinforced the idea of a Mars bar as part of a staple diet, as well as its use as a source of energy.

It's worth pointing out here that the Mars bars in the USA were quite different from the UK version; they had almonds in them, and were sold in a yellow packet rather than the rest of the world's familiar red-and-gold-on-black. The Mars bar never made quite the same impact in the States, which is probably the reason that Mars wound up the brand there and replaced it with "Snickers Almond"; same product, different label.

Anyway, the slogan hung around for more than 40 years, and the Mars bar become a part of British culture. A well known urban legend tells of a party raided by the police involving Mick Jagger and Marriane Faithful. Chip shops began deep frying them. Mars sponsored the 1992 Olympics and the 1994 World Cup. They became a symbol of Capitalism like McDonalds; as a child of the eighties, I remember being told that in the Soviet Union, a Mars bar was ten pounds. I always wanted to go to Russia with a briefcase full of them.

Mars has always been able to spot a bandwagon from a distance. In the nineties, they began extending the Mars bar brand, first to ice cream, then to chocolate milk. A number of promotional bars were introduced for short periods like Midnight Mars, with dark chocolate and white filling. They also had a ludicrous range of sizes of bar at one point, from smallest to biggest:

  • the mini Mars (still in Celebrations) - about the size of a boiled sweet
  • The fun size Mars bar - about 1/4 of a normal bar, ideal for lunch boxes
  • The snack size Mars bar - sort of between a fun size and a normal bar
  • The Mars bar - normal, at 65g weight
  • the king size Mars bar - 100g, longer and chunkier
  • the mega Mars bar - Only a promotional item, these whoppers were 125g and almost too big to eat in one go.

In 2002, Mars decided it was time for a change. The confectionary industry was going through what had happened to the ice cream industry a few years earlier; taking a kids' product and rebranding it for the growing market of women looking for luxury treats. The Mars bar was seen as associated with activity, energy and sports. Mars changed the packaging, dropping the square, heavy font in favour of a thinner, cursive script while keeping the colour-scheme. They changed the recipe, making the nougat filling a little bit lighter. They changed name of the 'king sized Mars bar' to "Mars: The big one" and reduced its weight from 100g to 85g.

Most significantly, and the thing that really got the headlines, was that Mars changed its famous slogan to "Pleasure you can't measure".

The first Mars bar was made in Slough, and it is there that Mars UK now makes some 3 million bars a day. Mainland European Mars bars taste a little different; the absence of vegetable fat in their chocolate removes, in my opinion, some of the richness from the flavour. But the Mars bar, in whatever form, remains a confectionary favourite in Britain and the rest of the world, the USA excepted.


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