When you open a bag of M&Ms, you’ll notice that the different colors are not distributed equally. Some colors, like brown, seem to be less common than colors like red or blue. This imbalance has led many candy lovers to wonder—why doesn’t Mars Wrigley, the company that makes M&Ms, produce them with an equal ratio of colors?
There are several factors that contribute to the uneven distribution of M&M colors. Understanding the history of M&Ms, how they are produced, and marketing considerations can help explain why consumers don’t find equal numbers of each color in every handful or package.
History of M&M’s Color Distribution
M&M’s were first produced in 1941 and only came in five colors—brown, yellow, green, red, and violet. The colors were designed to mimic the logo of Mars Wrigley, which features the company’s founder Franklin Mars’s face against a red, yellow, green and brown background. At this time, each color was produced in equal numbers.
In 1949, violet M&M’s were replaced by tan ones to better complement the existing color scheme. Other adjustments were made to the mix in the 1950s and 1960s. Red M&M’s were temporarily removed from 1976 to 1987. This was done after a scare over Red Dye #2, which was banned by the FDA due to health concerns.
Over the brand’s 80+ year history, the recipe has continued to evolve. The most notable change came in 1995 when blue M&M’s were added to the mix to replace tan. This was done after Mars held a public vote which showed blue to be the favorite color option.
Since then, additional colors have been rolled out and production ratios adjusted. But the core six colors have remained the same since 1995: brown, yellow, red, orange, green and blue.
How M&M’s Are Produced
M&M’s have a sugar shell coating around a chocolate center. During production, the centers are colored and stamped with the signature “M” before being coated in the crunchy shell.
The different colored centers are produced separately in large batches. They are then combined in mixes designed to achieve the desired color ratio for a given product.
For the standard, original M&M’s mix, the approximate distribution of colors is:
As you can see, blue is the most common color while brown and red are the least common. This imbalance is by design to achieve the ideal mix according to Mars Wrigley’s specifications.
The production process allows flexibility in adjusting the ratios for different products. Seasonal mixes like the red and green-heavy Holiday M&M’s have their own color distribution tailored to the occasion.
Marketing and Consumer Appeal
While production capabilities allow variety in color mixes, the marketing team at Mars Wrigley ultimately dictates the final ratios. Their choices are driven by sales data, consumer research, and strategic branding considerations.
Market research has shown that people have strong preferences when it comes to colors. Red, orange and blue tend to be the most popular while brown is the least liked. This informs some of the color balancing in the standard mix.
Sales numbers also make it clear that some shades are bigger hits than others. Blue M&M’s helped drive a sales surge when they were introduced in 1995. Limited edition colors are rolled out periodically to maintain interest and boost sales.
Mars conducts consumer tests to see which color mixes are most visually appealing in packaging. They avoid even 1:1 ratios since it looks less dynamic on shelves. The branded personalities given to each M&M color also enables more diverse marketing stories.
In the end, while Mars could technically produce M&M’s with equally distributed colors, this would not align with their marketing and sales objectives. The carefully controlled, uneven color ratios are a strategic choice to give consumers the best experience with America’s favorite chocolate candy.
Uneven Colors Create Surprise and Delight
The joy of eating M&M’s comes in part from the uncertainty and discovery created by the uneven color distribution. Rare colors feel more special and exciting. Sorting through handfuls in search of your favorite shade is part of the fun.
Children in particular delight in finding their preferred colors. The uneven distribution creates a more engaging sensory experience and emotional response.
For example, some kids insist that red or green M&M’s taste better than brown ones, even though the flavor is identical. It’s the color psychology at play.
As a nostalgic brand, M&M’s aims to maintain that sense of whimsy and surprise that is so central to its enduring appeal.
Quality Control Benefits
Producing five to six separate colored centers allows for better quality control and food safety.
Issues with chocolate blending, coloring or stamping are easier to identify and contain when colors are produced in individual batches. If a problem occurs, only one color would be affected rather than the full batch.
This streamlined process enables the factory to operate more efficiently. It also reduces food safety risks and waste when a quality issue arises.
From a distribution standpoint, it is simpler to mix set percentages of five colors than to closely control the exact distribution in very large combined batches. This supports efficiency and consistency.
Meeting Consumer Demand
Mars Wrigley has leveraged consumer data and feedback over the past 80 years to strategically adjust M&M’s color ratios. This gradual evolution keeps the product relevant and satisfying for customers.
In a world of endless candy options, M&M’s brand still has the largest market share. The uneven color distribution plays a key role in maintaining strong sales and loyalty over decades.
Consumers have come to expect and enjoy the surprise of discovering their favorite shades. Retail sales and customer satisfaction metrics demonstrate that the current ratios meet demand very effectively.
Mars conducts rigorous consumer research to ensure any changes in color mixing uphold the qualities that make M&M’s beloved while appealing to changing preferences. The brands’ continued growth shows the formulas strike the right balance.
While Mars could produce M&M’s with all colors evenly distributed, many operational and strategic factors make this an unappealing option. From a production standpoint, it is simpler and more efficient to make colored centers separately. From a marketing perspective, controlled variation in color ratios helps drive engagement and sales. And consumers seem to love the whimsy and unpredictability created by the intentional unevenness.
M&M’s enduring popularity proves that the current color ratios reflect a winning formula. So next time you tear open a fresh bag, embrace the uncertainty of what each tasty handful will reveal! It’s all part of what makes M&M’s a beloved treat.