How Mars, maker of M&Ms and Snickers, is reimagining its supply chain


Mars, the multibillion-dollar candy and pet food giant, plans to cut its emissions in half by the end of the decade and reach net zero by 2050. To get there, it’s finding ways to end deforestation in its supply chain, experimenting with new products like cat food made from insects, and starting to use refillable packaging—while also fending off the threat that climate change could pose to foods like chocolate. We talked to Amanda Davies, chief procurement and sustainability officer at Mars Wrigley (the snack side of the business), about her work on climate change.

[Photo: Mars]

Your job is unusual because you’re leading both sustainability and procurement. Why did Mars combine those roles?

The majority of our impact is in the extended supply chain. And so, it just kind of makes perfect sense that the person that’s responsible for sourcing the raw materials is responsible for the impact of those materials on the planet and the people. It means whenever I talk to a supplier, they know that I’m talking about all aspects of value and impact that I care about.

Like many food companies, one issue you’ve had to deal with is how to prevent deforestation from ingredients like cocoa and palm oil. How have you been tracking that in the 200,000-plus cocoa farms you work with?

We “polygon map” every single cocoa field that we have in our supply chain. [By tracing the exact shape of the farms, rather than tagging the GPS location, it’s easier to track any changes to neighboring forests with satellite images.] We’ve mapped 89% of the farms. We then monitor that to make sure that there hasn’t been any deforestation. We go to the farms and check that nothing is happening where we’re farming.

What happens if you do find a problem? Would you stop using the supplier?

Absolutely. We do this to make sure that our supply chains live up to the standard, very similar to if we had any issues with quality in our supply base. Your first approach is always to see if there’s anything that we can do to support raising the bar to the right level. And then if that can’t be done—and deforestation is one of those areas you can’t correct—then we remove it from our supply chain. We’re very keen that we both set the right standard and then maintain that standard.

Mars announced a few years ago that you’d eliminate deforestation from your palm oil supply chain. How did you accomplish that?

The first phase was radical simplification. We had a supply chain five years ago which probably had over 1,500 mills. We were buying palm oil as a commodity. And we’re a relatively small buyer of palm oil. So, we very intentionally said we wanted to understand every mill that our palm came from. We moved from over 1,500 mills, that we couldn’t monitor and verify, to fewer than 200. One of my big learnings in making change in supply chains is that you have to simplify. With our volumes we can absolutely source from a smaller number, and then you can be super intentional about making sure the standard that you expect, you can then inspect.

[Photo: Mars]

Is it hard to find deforestation-free palm oil suppliers to source from?

As long as you’re intentional about it, it’s possible. We’ve been tested over the last two or three years in terms of supply chain volatility like I’ve never seen before in my career, going from COVID to the challenges of the conflict in Ukraine. This put a huge amount of volatility and scarcity of supply, and palm oil was right up there—literally, could we get hold of it? While we did have to change suppliers and we did need to bring in new mills, we were always able to do that and monitor and verify that every new mill was free from deforestation.

Cocoa plants are at risk from climate change. What are some of the ways you’re combating that?

An incredibly important part of what we do is understanding how science and technology can play a role. What Mars has been doing for decades now is really investing in learning the genomics of farming the cacao plant, understanding pests and disease, and also things like pruning practices. All of those things come together in creating a more resilient and productive plant, which can then require less fertilizer and nutrients and have less disease, which means from a carbon point of view, it has lower intensity. And more income for farmers, if we can drive that productivity. We have a great collaboration with UC Davis, so we’re not doing this on our own.

Are those plants still being developed, or are some of them already getting to farmers?

Transferring cocoa plants around the world is an incredibly complicated process—we could probably spend an hour talking about that. But yes, we have them in the ground in Latin America, where there isn’t a constraint on plant genomics being transferred. We have our own farm in Ecuador, and I’ve had the privilege of going to look at these new plants and seeing a plant that can produce two or three tons per hector versus what’s more traditional in West Africa, which would be only 850 kilograms a hector. It gives me real confidence that we can make change and that the science can have real impact.

Mars also works with some farmers to help them plant trees or other crops to improve productivity, right?

Yes. I’ll share an example from our coconut supply chain. I spoke with an amazing farmer in Indonesia through a translator. We were standing on a hill and she was pointing out the monocrops of her peers who were growing coconut. She had a beautiful, biodiverse farm with coconuts, cocoa, herbs, flowers, and other things. She picked up a handful of soil and showed it to me and went and grabbed some soil from a neighbor’s plot. She basically said, “Look how healthy my soil is. This is the right thing to do for the soil, which means I can produce more.” And then she introduced me to her daughter and said, “This is why my daughter is going to university—because I understand soil health.”

[Photo: Mars]

Mars is working to reformulate some of your recipes to reduce emissions—like your Lovebug cat food, which uses insects as an ingredient. What’s an example of this work on the snack side of the business?

New ingredients are an incredibly important part of our portfolio of activities as we think about how we ensure that we hit all the responsibilities we have to the planet, including the big commitments we’ve got on carbon. So, we’ve got a dedicated new ingredients team within our R&D setup, which really looks at the future of food and how we can reduce the carbon footprint through reformulation. Lovebug is a great example in the pet care business.

In the snacking business, we trialed a launch of CO2COA, which was a chocolate that used [Perfect Day’s animal-free dairy protein]. We did that to learn about the consumer uptake, but we also really believe that precision fermentation is going to play a part in ingredients of the future. This particular ingredient produced up to 97% less greenhouse gas. [The product was a limited trial and the company’s R&D team is now working on scalability.] Clearly, there are products coming and ingredients that we have a desire and responsibility to reformulate. We have to learn because our consumers also love the delicious chocolate that we make today. It’s going to be part of the solution as we go forward, but we’re committed to this in terms of our research and development.

Another goal you have is to transform packaging. Mars has been using more refillable or reusable packaging—like bulk bins for M&M’s in some stores in France and China, and returnable bags for delivery of pet food. What are some of the things it would take to make reusable packaging viable on a large scale?

It’s a challenge of two parts, as I see it. First of all, we’ve got to make sure we get the right materials: How do we design for circularity with materials that can and will be recycled or reused or refilled?

Second, you’ve got to put the structures in place to make sure it actually happens. That’s something that requires us to be really working either with customers, allowing us to move to packs that can be refilled, which requires a more complicated supply chain. But also making sure that we’re influencing, lobbying, partnering to make sure that we’ve got the right collection, sorting, and recycling infrastructures. Those are progressing at different paces around the world.

One of your factories switched to 100% electric power for all your equipment. How can that scale up to other factories?

Each and every capital investment that we make, we have to question ourselves, How can we convert this? It’s just being really intentional from the most senior parts of our business to the most junior associates to say, every single decision we make is a decision that will have an impact for the future.

Today, it may not be the cheapest thing to invest in a piece of equipment that runs off electricity versus natural gas, but we’re making a decision for the next number of decades, so we’d better make the right decision today. We’re making decisions for the next generation of leaders.

What are some of the biggest challenges that you’ll need to solve to reach your goal of hitting net zero by 2050?

I was on a call with my climate team earlier today and I’ve just seen, for the first time, our carbon pipeline in exactly the same format as my saving pipeline. I’ve been pushing for this for six months. I want to be able to performance manage our greenhouse gas numbers with the same rigor and precision that I can with our savings, and the team showcased it to me today.

I can now confidently say that I think we have the pipeline to 2025. [By 2025, the company aims to cut emissions by 27%.] I can see that fully in deployment. The pipeline to 2030 I feel relatively confident about—how we’re going to get to minus 50%. But we’ve still got another 50% to go, and we haven’t got all of that sorted out today. Anyone who says they have a pipeline to net zero with absolute confidence who works in a food business—I’d love to talk to them. (I really would, I’d love to harvest their ideas!)

We have some real things that we still need to work out. We need to understand how we’re going to take our logistics and transform that. We have to look at many of our ingredients; dairy is one of them. We’ve still got lots of science to work out—how do we capture greenhouse gases in barns? We’re at the edge of the science that knows how to do that, not deploying solutions.

My biggest challenge for the team is, I want to know the solutions for 2030 to 2050. I want to see them written down. I want to see the investments that we need. While we don’t know all the answers, I do know that on my watch, we have to work them out. Because if I leave it to somebody to come into my job in seven years time or whenever and say, “Oh, we now need to start thinking about 2050.” That’s going to be a generation too late. So, I’m absolutely committed to filling my pipeline to 2050 of ideas. That’s my job as a leader.


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