Spreading its good cheer across the globe, Wrigley landed in Africa in 1972, opening its first factory in Kenya, which is the multinational’s only manufacturing plant in the region. The company’s first products to be manufactured at its facility in the Industrial Area, Nairobi, were the famously known and widely enjoyed Orbit with Sugar and Big G chewing gums.

One of the wealthiest men in the world, Steve Jobs, once said, “If you want to make everyone happy… sell ice cream.”

Well, one Mr. William Wrigley Jr. seems to have long mastered the art, as in the spring of 1891 he landed in Chicago, USA with a great talent for sales and started out in the baking powder business. One day Mr. Wrigley got an idea to offer merchants free chewing gum with each can of baking powder. The rest is history, as this random but well-thought-out plan gave birth to the world’s leading manufacturer of chewing gum, now part of the Mars Incorporated family – Mars Wrigley, previously known as the Wrigley Company.

For decades, the company has put smiles on people’s faces and created better moments for millions through their iconic products. Spreading its good cheer across the globe, Wrigley landed in Africa in 1972, opening its first factory in Kenya, which is the multinational’s only manufacturing plant in the region.

The company’s first products to be manufactured at its facility in the Industrial Area, Nairobi, were the famously known and widely enjoyed Orbit with Sugar and Big G chewing gums. Adding a burst of flavours and the right balance of bubbliness, Wrigley commenced local manufacturing of PK and Juicy Fruit chewing gum pellets in Kenya in 2003 and 2005 respectively.

Big news emerged in 2008 when Mars Incorporated, an American multinational manufacturer of confectionery, pet food, and other food products, founded in 1911, entered in one sweet deal with the Wrigley Company. The maker of the world’s best-selling chocolate candy brands: Snickers, Skittles and M&Ms, bought the chewing gum major for US$23 billion, creating a confectionery behemoth with centuries of experience. Following the acquisition, Mars Incorporated began integrating Wrigley’s business units worldwide into its operations, including Wrigley’s chewing gum businesses in Kenya.

Initially Wrigley was functioning as a separate, stand-alone subsidiary of Mars, until 2016 when the family-owned privately held business, made a decision to combine its Mars Chocolate and Wrigley segments to create a new entity: Mars Wrigley Confectionery.

The tie-up brought together the two companies with a wide global footprint, to currently boast of more than 115,000 Associates in 80 countries around the world. Mars Wrigley sells its products in more than 180 countries, and has 21 production facilities in 14 countries including the United States, Mexico, Spain, the United Kingdom, France, the Czech Republic, Colombia, Poland, Russia, China, India, Japan, Kenya, Taiwan, Australia, and New Zealand.

Mars Wrigley doubles capacity in Kenya

In Kenya, the newly formed entity continued expanding its business. In 2015, the Mars family invested in a new state-of-the-art chewing gum manufacturing plant in Athi River, near Nairobi, breaking ground in April the same year. Built at a cost of US$70 million, the new factory became operational in 2018 and subsequently led to the decommissioning of the Industrial Area factory.

The Athi River manufacturing base was officially launched in 2019, aligning with the company’s 50th anniversary in the East African country.

The new plant, having a production capacity of 7.8 billion pellets of chewing gum annually, produces leading chewing gum brands such as Big G, P.K., Doublemint and Juicy Fruit. It also acts as a base of operations for Mars Wrigley, enabling the company to coordinate the importation, distribution and marketing of the company’s other gum, confectionery and chocolate products such as Orbit, M&Ms, Galaxy, Bounty, Skittles, Twix and Snickers among others.

Doubling its capacity in comparison to the former factory, the new investment is a clear indication of the ambitious targets the company has set for itself in terms of revenue growth, as it focuses on operating at optimal capacity. To generate the sales needed to utilize the capacity, the new factory does not only serve Kenya, but also Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Nigeria, Burundi, Ethiopia, Djibouti, DRC and South Sudan.

“As a result, the pace of economic integration in Africa is something that we are closely monitoring, as critical trade agreements such as the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) will allow us to build strong and expansive supply chains across different geographies within the continent,” said Lennox Yieke, Mars Wrigley Confectionery Corporate Affairs Manager – East Africa.

Sustainably running operations

A key feature about this new plant, besides the doubled capacity, is its environmental sustainability design credentials. The facility was built with the future in mind, in line with Mars’ Sustainable in Generation Plan (SiG), under which the company intends to cut all fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions in its operations by 2040. SiG also has ambitious targets with regards to water efficiency and zero waste to landfill.

Built at a cost of us$70m, the new factory became operational in 2018 and subsequently led to the decommissioning of the industrial area factory

To meet these bold sustainability commitments in the Athi River plant, the confectionery maker uses a biomass boiler which burns sugar cane bagasse to provide 100% of the steam used in the processing equipment. In addition, they use solar energy for water heating and have fully implemented the zero waste to landfill policy. Further to that, the company is in advanced stages of operationalizing its waste water treatment plant, which will significantly enhance water efficiency by recycling 100% of the water used in the cooling towers.

All these contributed to the company being feted globally for setting the pace in sustainability, receiving the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council in 2018. Mars Wrigley is the first factory in the East and Central Africa region to receive the accolade, which is the most widely recognised green rating system across the globe.

Also the Association of Energy Engineers (AEE), the premiere professional association for energy engineers globally, awarded the Mars Wrigley site in Kenya the ‘Sub-Saharan Africa Region Energy Project of the Year Award for 2020.’

The plant was also feted at the 2018 edition of the Africa Food Industry Excellence Awards as the most outstanding new investment in the Sugar & Confectionery sector in Africa.

The manufacturing giant has also implemented the most robust food safety management system in its operations as it is FSSC 22000, ISO 9001 and ISO 22000 certified. This is guided by its five business principles: Quality, Responsibility, Mutuality, Efficiency and Freedom.

“The certifications have ensured our quality, safety, environment and food safety management systems are implemented and maintained in a manner that delivers efficiency in operations and compliance to Mars and regulatory requirements. Over the years, our focus on compliance to the international standards has delivered continuous improvement to our current status of world class manufacturing,” highlights Yieke.

Impact on the economy and communities

Wrigley Mars is not just committed to offering its consumers quality products and ensuring their operations are sustainably undertake, the company is also positively impacting the communities it serves. Mars has employed more than 300 people directly at its Athi River facility and provides indirect employment to thousands more through its extended value chain.

Moreover, in 2013 the candy master rolled out an entrepreneurship programme called “Project Maua”. Through this programme, Wrigley Mars works with entrepreneurs in hard-to-reach areas such as informal urban settlements and rural areas, to access markets that can’t be reached through conventional channels. This model has created mutual benefits for the company and the entrepreneurs as it allows them to scale their distribution while giving the beneficiaries a stable livelihood. So far the program has reached more than 1000 entrepreneurs across the country, including in Kakuma refugee camp.

Corporate citizenship at Mars is not the exclusive preserve of Corporate Affairs. All its associates are allowed and encouraged to take part in community initiatives through a global program, Mars Volunteer Program (MVP). Through this program, associates have rallied behind causes they are passionate about, including visiting children’s homes around Athi River and Nairobi, tree-planting, just to mention a few.

In addition to MVP, the company has also made strategic investments in CSR initiatives around oral health. Through the Mars Wrigley Foundation, they have partnered with the Kenya Dental Association (KDA) and provided funding to the tune of Ksh13.7 million (US$127,000), to support free dental screening and treatment for primary school pupils. The program started in 2018 and ended in 2019, reaching 20,287 pupils. These pupils were drawn from six counties: Nairobi, Murang’a, Nakuru, Kajiado, Machakos and Meru.

Its partnership with KDA builds on other strategic alliances they have forged in efforts to advocate for a national oral health policy. In this regard, they have worked with stakeholders in the health and education space to draw attention to the oral health gaps in Kenya. For example, the company commissioned the first ever Kenya National Oral Health Survey Report in 2015 in partnership with the Ministry of Health and the University of Nairobi’s School of Dental Sciences. They have also been a strong voice for the inclusion of oral health in the school curriculum and have worked closely with the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development to pursue this agenda.

Going forward, Mars Wrigley has set its eyes on the future by channelling all its energies towards boosting competitiveness and meeting consumers at their point of need. Its sustainability agenda is an example of how they are striving to remain competitive.

Research shows that, businesses that take tangible steps to protect the planet and its people are more likely to succeed. These measures not only insulate businesses from regulatory intervention, but also endear them to the modern consumer, who is more likely to buy from brands that care about the world.

This feature appeared in the May/June 2021 issue of Food Business Africa. You can read the magazine HERE