Mars wants you to eat less of its candy

Mars, the confectionary giant behind M&Ms, is reportedly trying to convince fast-food chains including McDonald's (MCD), Burger King (QSR) and Dairy Queen to remove its candies from their desserts as part of its strategy to encourage people to consume sweets in moderation.

It isn't clear how far the talks, which Reuters was first to report, have progressed or how open the restaurants were to Mars' overtures. The companies are also discussing reformulating some of the super-sweet menu items such as the McDonald's McFlurry, Burger King's Snickers pie and Dairy Queen's Blizzard, the news service said. Officials from the chains couldn't immediately be reached.

Earlier this year, Mars endorsed the recommendations by the World Health Authority, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Committee and the U.K. Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition that encourage people to limit their intake their intake of sugars, particularly those added to foods, to no more than 10 percent of their total energy/caloric intake. Mars also backed a new U.S. government rule that require food companies to list the amount of added sugar in their products.

"We are now working alongside our suppliers and customers to bring this commitment to life," wrote Jonathan Mudd, a spokesman for Mars, in a statement. He declined to elaborate further.

Mars, which also makes Skittles, Snickers and Twix, was the first candy manufacturer to list calorie amounts on its products, a move Reuters noted initially caught the industry by surprise, though other companies eventually went along with the practice. The company also stopped selling large versions of its candy bars and limited candy packages to 250 calories per serving.

Even so, Mars' efforts are unusual for the food industry, according to Margot Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, who applauded the company's decision. The candy industry, however, accounts for only about 2 percent of the total calories consumed in a typical diet.

"Companies rarely acknowledge that their food should only be eaten occasionally," she said. "Maybe in private when you are talking to a company they'll say, 'yeah candy is a treat.' But then their advertising is more along the lines that 'you need this for a snack.'"

Obesity is a growing problem around the world, now afflicting some 1.9 billion people. The latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show it's rising especially among women and teens. The CDC estimates that costs to treat medical conditions associated with obesity, including diabetes and high blood pressure, is $147 billion in 2008 dollars.

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    Jonathan Berr is an award-winning journalist and podcaster based in New Jersey whose main focus is on business and economic issues.