Skittles

overall rating:

1.6

planets

Jesse Gerscher Connelly
7/16/2021
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Skittles are one of the most beloved and iconic confectionary products in the world, with demand for the chewy candies having increased substantially over the last decade. They are produced under the Mars umbrella through the Mars Wrigley Subsidiary, which also produces many other popular products such as M&M’s and Snickers. Despite being such a household product you’ll be hard-pressed to find a lot of information about the production process or sources of ingredients for Skittles. This is slightly worrying considering the sheer quantity of Skittles that are produced annually at the main Yorkville Confectionary Manufacturing Facility in Illinois. Overall, although a typically harmful ingredient such as palm oil is used in the production of Skittles, Mars Wrigley has undertaken initiatives to curb the mass deforestation associated with palm oil harvesting. Moreover, a strength of Mars Wrigley is its social sustainability which it takes incredibly seriously, and can be evidenced by the 169,000 workers they currently have enrolled in programs aimed to better their living standards. This is something they have managed to maintain throughout the pandemic, with further support being delegated throughout the supply chain. Unfortunately, the key weakness for Skittles is the slow progress in their sustainability goals, which although disappointing, shows a strong degree of accountability and ownership, with Mars Wrigley stressing that they will do better.

What it's made of:

1.4

The key ingredients in Skittles are sugar, corn syrup, hydrogenated palm kernel oil, along with flavourings from fruit juices, citric acids and artificial flavourings. For most people, clued up or not, palm oil rings alarm bells, as around 8% of all deforestation takes place in order to harvest palm oil. Not only has this deforestation lead to high levels of harmful emissions through the burning down of tress, but has destroyed a large population of animals and plants, weakening the biodiversity of affected areas. Thankfully, Mars Wrigley has acknowledged this unacceptable practice, and has actively launched the Palm Positive Plan which sources 100% of their palm oil from deforestation-free suppliers. This is confirmed by the fact that all of their suppliers are members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and are certified by this committee. This certification system ensures that the entire supply chain for palm oil is discussed and implemented in a way that meets the requirements of all stakeholders. For instance, in communities in Indonesia, farmers are required to assess land for high carbon stock and conservation value before developing plantations, with land use permits being issued individually by local communities. All in all, I can safely say that Mars Wrigley has done their part here. 

In general, the other key ingredients of sugar and corn syrup are relatively unproblematic, with there being very few methods to sustainably optimise the supply chain. However, although these ingredients make up the bulk of the product, Mars Wrigley sheds very little light on the quality and certifications of their suppliers, instead focusing their efforts on the palm oil production. This gives rise to the transparency issue that I highlighted in the overview, which is also conveniently masked by Mars Wrigley. In their sustainability report for 2020, they celebrate the transparency of their information by showing a 97% media placement compliance. Although this suggests that their advertisement is honest enough, it doesn’t at all relate to the transparency of their production, which may mislead consumers. This is something I would like to see Mars Wrigley work on by publishing more about the sourcing of their sugar, corn syrup, and general ingredients that aren’t palm oil. 

The final key element of Skittles is its packaging, and this is an area that Mars Wrigley has really targeted exclusively with Skittles. This targeting has come in the form of a two-year deal with the biodegradable materials business Danimer Scientific, where a joint-venture has been struck to develop home compostable packaging. As a result, all off-the-shelf Skittles packaging are, by end of 2021, anticipated to be composed of Nodax polyhydroxyalkanoate, a material produced through natural fermentation of soy and canola. What really makes me hopeful about this initiative is that it will provide a massive aid to markets with underdeveloped recycling infrastructures, where littering is prevalent. As a result, the packaging will not only be more sustainable by nature, but will have an influence on markets that require a form of recycling intervention. Evidently, this is a well thought through scheme, and one that I really have to commend Mars Wrigley for.

How it's made:

1

Skittles are made through a complex manufacturing system that include multiple ingredients and stages, where the pip, shell and lettering on the candy are made. Due to the complexity of this process, I would rather focus on the holistic production, and the extent to which the Skittles process is being optimised to minimise waste outputs. My conclusion is mixed. Mars Wrigley clearly have high ambitions, but at the moment are struggling to reach them. For instance, their key goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions across the value chain by 27% by 2025 is only 3.5% complete as of 2020. This suggests that a more realistic time frame would be around 2028. Moreover, their ambition to hold flat the total land area in their value chain is failing, as in the last year their land had increased by 2.3%. Despite these failings, the mere fact that Mars Wrigley is happy to place these stats on the first page of their sustainability scorecard shows that they are taking accountability and being transparent of their limitations. Equally, these statistics need to be taken with a grain of salt, as the Mars Wrigley value chain is ginormous, and it will take a lot of time and effort to reach every area of it. This gives me confidence that they are on the right track. The main strength that Mars Wrigley has in its production process is water use, as they have eliminated 19.8% of unsustainable water use in the value chain; well on track to meet the 50% target by 2025. Ultimately for me, Mars Wrigley has a large job on its hands, but its one that they are not scared to take accountability for.

Who makes it:

2.4

In almost every element of the Skittles value chain, Mars Wrigley has implemented a scheme or adopted an initiative that benefits its employees. Looking first at the factory itself, a new production line at the Yorkville facility was recently awarded a $37,500 grant to aid in job training by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. Moreover, the expansion led to the creation of 75 permanent manufacturing associate roles and 300 construction jobs, aiding the economic development of Yorkville. Equally, Mars Wrigley is aiming to increase the proportion of their large sites that follow the ’10 fundamentals of a healthy and energising work culture’. However, Mars Wrigley hasn’t defined exactly what these 10 fundamentals are. Given that only 34% of their sites live up to these ‘fundamentals’, they are either extremely high level, or Mars Wrigley really needs to get their act together! 

Looking now at the supply chain, Mars Wrigley has stressed its two key statements of ‘Thriving people’ and ‘Nourishing Wellbeing’. The first includes the aim of improving the lives of 1 million people in their value chain, which they are achieving through aiding farmers with access to inputs and qualifications in agricultural practice. Moreover, they are supporting 17,000 female workers in their mint and cocoa supply chains with economic empowerment programs aimed at boosting savings and entrepreneurial skills. Although not directly associated with Skittles, I still think these initiatives deserve to be mentioned, and showcase that Mars Wrigley are doing their part to better the social sustainability of their value chain.