Chocolate bars with "pet food" : Mars, recipes for success

It’s a performance worthy of a young tech shoot. The century-old giant Mars (Freedent, M&M’s, Royal Canin, Snickers…) has seen its turnover jump by 60% over eight years! If the Mars galaxy has changed in size, going from 60,000 to 140,000 employees since 2014, for a turnover of 45 billion dollars in 2021, it is thanks to the Scottish Grant Reid, a visionary boss who has just bow out. His main achievement: having made Mars a titan of cat and dog food. While Westerners are consuming fewer and fewer snacks and chocolate bars, the Virginia-based group has invested in this rapidly expanding market, whether in rich or emerging countries.

Cesar, Pedigree, Sheba, Whiskas, or Catsan cat litter, sales of the “pet food” division have doubled in eight years, to the point that Mars now shares 80% of this very profitable market with Nestlé. Following several acquisitions, the subsidiary Mars Petcare also has a network of 2,500 veterinary clinics. “Their strength is to be a family group with a long-term vision, not a multinational listed on the stock market like Nestlé which has its eyes riveted on the quarterly results”, indicates a former salesman at Nestlé Purina.

While in the West, the birth rate is declining and the population is aging, “people are spending more and more money on their animals. Confinement has pushed many households to adopt a dog or a cat. In emerging countries, the market is driven by the expansion of the middle class”, decrypts David Hayes, head of analysts specializing in everyday consumer products at Société Générale, in London.

A sector that also generates profits worthy of luxury. “Cat or dog owners are ready to put 30 euros in kibble when from an industrial point of view, animal by-products are used [NDLR : des matières d’origine animale que les abattoirs ne peuvent pas vendre], which does not cost much. The operating margin on kibble for cats varies between 30% and 45%!”, underlines the former salesman of Nestlé Purina. It is therefore not surprising that the consumer giants covet this market. To stand out from its rivals, the Mars group knew how to play skilfully on the prescription. “They cornered the veterinarians very early on, for example by signing a partnership with the Maisons-Alfort veterinary school”, slips Joseph D.

Mars’ success in “pet food” is also due to its ability to attract the best talent. The group, which has set up the world headquarters of Royal Canin near Montpellier, has implemented an exemplary HR policy. Number 1 of the Best Workplaces France ranking in 2020 in the category of companies with more than 2,500 employees, Mars is also one of the “best employers 2022” according to the job search site Glassdoor.

As environmental and social causes gain momentum among young people, Mars nevertheless knows that it cannot rest on its laurels. The outgoing boss Grant Reid had also made a remarked speech at the Glasgow COP 26. Concretely, Mars has committed to reducing its net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050, and has reviewed its palm oil purchases to no longer contribute to deforestation.

However, there is still room for improvement in terms of social responsibility. In a 2019 article, the washington postrevealed that the multinational did not know the origin of 76% of its cocoa purchases, and that it therefore could not guarantee production without child labour. “Mars condemns the use of child labor and forced labor and is committed to working to end it in the cocoa supply chain,” the group’s French management told L’Express. “At the end of 2021, we were able to trace 70% of our volumes from Ivory Coast and Ghana, through more than 117,000 farmers. We are on track to achieve our 100% commitment by to 2025,” she adds. A welcome effort of transparency for a group with an almost perfect profile.

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