Mars Chocolate reached a sustainability milestone and works to increase production of high-oleic varieties.
By Amanda Huber
Mars Chocolate reached a significant benchmark last year in ensuring the sustainability of edible peanuts for their consumers, a benchmark that had a lot to do with peanut producers. In 2014, 51 percent of the peanuts used for the company’s U.S. products were high-oleic acid peanuts. The company strongly believes that high-oleic peanuts will help them keep pace with increasing product demand.
“We are seeing more and more U.S. peanut farmers committing themselves to ensuring the sustainability of edible peanuts by planting high-oleic acid peanuts, and we are encouraged by it,” says Anne-Marie DeLorenzo, Strategic Sourcing Manager of Peanuts for Mars Chocolate North America, who is a past chairperson for the American Peanut Council. “Higholeic acid peanuts are more likely to stay fresh while also possessing all of the qualities that have made peanuts an attractive crop for U.S. farmers for years.”
A Projection For Triple Demand
Edible peanuts are one of Mars Chocolate’s foundational ingredients and are a critical component to two of the company’s most popular products worldwide – M&M’S Peanut Chocolate Candies and Snickers. As a result of the growing global demand for these billion-dollar brands, Mars – one of the top global buyers of high-quality edible peanuts – projects that its need for high-quality whole peanuts will triple by 2025.
“The majority of consumers do not know where peanuts come from,” says DeLorenzo. “But, when they bite into one that tastes bad, they are less likely to want to eat that product again.”
The peanut industry faces a challenge today to make sure that it is growing enough high-quality, edible peanuts to meet growing demand. “That’s why we are working to get high-oleic peanuts because of the improvement in reducing the potential for rancidity,” she says.
Mars Chocolate, which began in 1911 with Frank C. Mars making candies in his Tacoma, Wash., kitchen, has committed to using 100 percent high-oleic acid peanuts in its products by 2017, working with peanut farmers, shellers and the industry as a whole to support the production of a sustainable supply of quality peanuts by investing in science, creating more advanced breeding approaches, mitigating disease and encouraging greater agricultural efficiencies.
Investing In Advanced Breeding
“The industry recognizes a need to work with farmers to grow peanut varieties that will contribute to the long-term sustainability of the crop by keeping peanuts competitive, free of disease and satisfying to consumers,” says DeLorenzo. “Consumers know that peanuts have many healthy components. High-oleic acid peanuts take this a step further by further boosting the natural healthfulness of the crop.
“We have every expectation we will meet our 2017 goal of utilizing 100 percent of high-oleic acid peanuts in our products. We are also pleased to see more members of the industry and farmers excited about the growth and use of high-oleic acid peanuts.”
Overcoming The Challenges
Even now, peanuts are a high yielding, lower cost and healthy nut that require less agriculture inputs, giving them a natural advantage as a crop. However, there are challenges that peanut farmers face in growing high quality edible whole peanuts, including lower investment in peanuts research as compared to other competitive crops. Peanuts can also be contaminated during drought conditions or as a result of improper post-harvest handling.
As the world continues to experience more drought, manufacturers and growers of peanuts can expect to face persistent threats. Improving practices around the world will help mitigate these problems while helping farmers overall.
What Is Mars’ Plan?
Mars Chocolate’s initiative to improve peanut sustainability contains the three main elements as follows:
• Support of crop improvement and breeding;
• Expansion of the supply and the use of high-oleics in places where peanuts are grown;
• Development in quality and food safety, especially in managing aflatoxin contamination.
In addition, the company has invested more than $1.4 million to support the efforts of the International Peanut Genome Initiative to map the peanut genome with the aim of developing high-oleic acid peanuts that are disease resistant and provide a better quality alternative for standard edible nuts. In April 2014, the group of scientists reached a significant milestone when it was announced that they had mapped a wild peanut genome sequence, which is now available to researchers around the world to assist in the breeding of more productive peanut varieties that are resistant to diseases. The industry, as a whole, says DeLorenzo, is beginning to see a need to produce edible peanuts that reflect consumers’ desire for a high-quality, shelf-stable nut, so that peanuts remain a competitive crop for farmers in many origin countries to grow.