Taking the wraps off candy

Candy: From factory to Halloween bag
Candy: From factory to Halloween bag 05:10

Last Updated Oct 28, 2019 11:16 AM EDT

If you're one of those parents, who occasionally "borrows" a couple "fun-sized" candy bars out of your kid's Halloween stash, there's a good chance those treats got their start in Chicago, Illinois, at the Mars Wrigley Candy factory. 

Wayne Pesavent assured correspondent Luke Burbank, "Actually, candy's pretty healthy for you, believe it or not."

Pesavent is clearly not a doctor, but he IS the fourth generation of his family to work at this Mars factory, which is about to 90 years old this year.

"I didn't expect to probably be here that long," Pesavent said. "But I am here. And I enjoyed everything that goes on. I mean, if you think about the five principles of Mars, you know, you teach those every single day of your life."

And those five principles are?  "Quality. Mutuality. Responsibility. Freedom. Oh, my God, I forgot."

"Brush your teeth?" suggested Burbank. "I'm pretty sure that's the fifth one."

They're principles set down by Franklin C. Mars way back in 1920 when he founded the company. Things started slow, but the business landed a hit in 1923 with the Milky Way Bar. Then came Snickers and M&Ms, and the rest, as they say, is candy history.

More than a century later, the company is still owned entirely by the Mars family, who – like Willy Wonka himself – are as notoriously secretive as they are successful.  Mars is one of the largest privately-held companies in the world, with $35 billion (according to Forbes) in sales each year.

According to Amy Vedmore, the factory's site director, "We make about 99% of the Snickers fun size. We make Milky Way and Three Musketeers fun size as well."

In all, millions of tiny candy bars come out of this facility each day, as well as some regular-sized bars, which, after being made, need to be packed and shipped.

As Burbank found out, it looks easy, but after just five minutes on the production line he had a newfound empathy for Lucille Ball.

Of course, how you package the chocolate doesn't mean much, if it doesn't taste right. Burbank met Lindsay Garfield, who is principal sensory technologist. In other words, her job is to eat candy, making sure that every piece that comes out of this factory tastes perfect. 

"We say the perfect Snickers is the same Snickers that the first Snickers tasted like," Garfield said.

"The first Snickers bar that Mr. Mars presumably, like, invented?" asked Burbank.

"The perfect Snickers!"

"And does anyone know what that one tasted like?"

"It tastes just like the Snickers today," Garfield replied.

So, what is involved in testing a candy bar's flavor? Burbank have his taste buds a try. "Okay, so we're tasting this cocoa butter because it's one of the building blocks of a Milky Way essentially, right? How does one properly taste cocoa butter?"

"With cocoa butter you're gonna wanna slurp it," Garfield said. "So, pretend like you're the rudest person in the world."

"Not hard for me!"

"You should get chocolate – chocolate should be your number one thing you should get. And then just that oily mouth feel."

"Okay, I'm getting both of those things," Burbank said. "So, this was a success!"

Burbank then tried his hand at giving away candy for free. Hard to mess up, as Willa May Brown can tell you. Around here, she's known as the "Queen of Halloween" for her role in giving away mass quantities of free candy to thousands who turn up in front of the candy factory every October 31. 

"I mean, we give 'em gobs of candy," Brown said. "And we have two tables, and we have four people at each table. And everybody puts somethin' in their bag."

Burbank asked, "Now, is there an age cutoff for this? Like, do you have to be a kid?"

"No!"

And do more kids or adults come for Free Candy Day?  "More adults, believe it or not," she replied.

      
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Story produced by Amy Wall. 

EDITOR'S NOTE: It was originally reported that the Mars Wrigley factory on Oak Park Avenue, referred to as the Oak Park factory, is in the township of Oak Park, Illinois; it is actually across the border from Oak Park, in Chicago.