M&M’s releases all-female inclusivity campaign, suspends ‘spokescandies’ weeks later

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New M&M packaging now sits on store shelves. This new packaging features all female characters. (Sydni Merrill)

Mars, Incorporated, the multinational food company, released a limited edition female package of M&M’s in January 2023.

The package contains the all-female green, brown and newly created purple M&M. The package reads “Supporting Women Flipping the Status Quo.” 

Eighteen days later, M&M’s suspended their “spokescandies” altogether.

The company announced Jan. 23 via Twitter that they would indefinitely pause using their spokescandies, and introduced Maya Rudolph as their new spokesperson.

They said their reason for the change was due to controversy that arose from changes they made in their spokescandies, and that they’re “all about bringing people together.”

According to M&M’s website, the all-female limited edition packaging product description reads, “You are seeing right! M&M’S three leading ladies are upside down. Why? We are flipping our packs of M&M’S chocolates in support of women who are ‘Flipping the Status Quo’ and reshaping success.”

“For every sharing size pack of M&M’S Milk Chocolate candy sold, $1 will be donated towards supporting female creators to keep flipping the status quo,” reads the product description.

Marissa Morgan, a BYU psychology student from Big Timber, Montana, was impressed with Mars’s effort to donate to women’s organizations. 

“I always notice any effort made by big companies to support women in their careers, attempt to improve women’s health and make changes to close the wage gap,” said Morgan.

“While I recognize that M&Ms are non-human characters, I also acknowledge that positive female representation of any kind in the media is important and impactful. Even in animations and cartoons, if companies are making efforts to portray their female characters with positive, empowering qualities, it means something,” Morgan said.

Following its release the packaging sparked online controversy.

BYU pre-business student Cassidy Robinson is supportive of the packaging but feels it has little direct impact on her life. Robinson doesn’t remember the last time she ate M&M’s but said that she likes candy and supporting good causes.

“Sometimes I feel small as a consumer and a college student,” said Robinson. “I can’t really give a lot necessarily, but maybe if I were to purchase M&M’s I could feel like I was giving back.”

However, Robinson didn’t feel like the package personally affected her and questions the actual impact this effort could have.

“I would be more impressed by a continuous effort as opposed to one at a time,” Robinson said.

This release coincides with two recent legal suits brought up against Mars.

According to court documents, 8 citizens of Mali, who were trafficked as children to the Ivory Coast and then used for labor, sued Mars, along with 6 other defendants. The defendants won their motion to dismiss at a district court in Washington D.C. in June 28, 2022.

On Jan. 5 2023, Arlene Millman, New York citizen, filed a class action complaint against Mars, Inc. for insufficient labeling on products that may have unsafe levels of heavy metals, specifically lead and cadmium.

The products in question are Dove’s dark chocolate products that promise deeper dark chocolate 70% Cacao and any other products found with unsafe levels of heavy metals.

Millman claims she is unable to make informed purchasing decisions, as product labels didn’t disclose that they contained or risked containing unsafe levels of heavy metals.

Elisa Huhem, BYU MBA student from Cedar Hills, Utah, appreciated the efforts that M&M’s are putting toward inclusivity, but wonders about the intentions behind it. 

Huhem expressed curiosity in Mars’ corporate social strategy, which she described as “the element of not just doing good or looking like you do good but actually trying to take strategic steps to doing good and doing good better.” 

Huhem posed several questions when thinking about the packaging, asking what M&M’s initial vision was and what they want to accomplish. She wondered if packaging was the best way for females to feel included and if women were included in Mars’s decision-making process.

“When it relates to diversity, equity and inclusion, it’s super important to get proximate to the people you’re trying to impact. I wonder who Mars should have been proximate to,” said Huhem.

On Oct. 27 2021, vice president and general council at Mars, Stefanie Straub, stated that for Mars, luck is not a strategy to achieve gender equality.

“To make sustained progress on gender equity, we need an inclusive approach that involves women in the design and implementation of transformative policies. And, critically, men have an active role to play as allies with women,” Straub said.

Straub asked consumers what needs to change for more women to reach their full potential.

Morgan, Robinson and Huhem all expressed a desire to hope that Mars has good intentions, but are interested to see what will happen next. These BYU students and M&M consumers are looking ahead to see what steps Mars will take in response to the criticism. 

“It’s wrong to capitalize on a historically marginalized group of people,” said Morgan. “I hope that Mars is not just using feminism to make money.”

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