Mars has secretly become bigger than Coca-Cola, and the reason might not have much to do with candy bars
Business is sweet, both figuratively and literally, for Mars, a private company that has revealed some eye-popping sales numbers.
On Wednesday, candy manufacturing giant Mars provided a rare insight into its dramatic recent growth.
In announcing that CEO Grant F. Reid is stepping down, the company also revealed that sales grew 50% to almost $45 billion in 2021, according to a statement. While total revenue can also include supplementary income sources, sales typically make up the bulk of it.
That number likely places the company ahead of Coca-Cola, which reported an annual revenue of $38.7 billion in 2021.
The number of Mars employees grew significantly while Reid was at the helm of the company, from 2014 to 2022, more than doubling from 60,000 to 140,000, according to the statement.
Mars’ growth far outstrips that of peer packaged-food companies during the same period. Hershey, for example, saw its revenue increase from $7.4 billion in 2014 to $8.9 billion in 2021, according to the company’s respective annual reports.
Others have even seen negative growth in recent years. In 2020, for example, Coca-Cola’s revenue decreased from $37.3 billion in 2019 to $33 billion, according to the company’s annual reports from those years. That dip was likely a result of consumers not traveling to public venues where its products are sold as a result of pandemic-related restrictions.
If Mars has a similar consumer market for its candy products, how has its growth been able to skyrocket the past decade? The answer is a diversified business model, and what appears to be an extremely lucrative pet business.
The company is not just the manufacturer and distributor of candy like Snickers, M&Ms, and Skittles, but one of the world’s biggest providers of pet care services. In recent years, that side of the company’s business has seen significant growth. Over half the company’s employees—85,000—now belong to its pet care arm, according to Mars’ website.
In 2015, Mars acquired Blue Pearl, then the largest chain of companion animal specialty and emergency care clinics in the U.S. Two years later, it acquired Los Angeles–based VCA Animal Hospitals, and in 2018, it acquired Linnaeus Group. With that last acquisition, Mars became one of the U.K.’s leading veterinary care providers.
Pet care has been a growing sector throughout the pandemic, bringing in $123.6 billion in 2021, according to the American Pet Products Association. In 2019 alone, consumers spent $97.1 billion on pet care.
The prominence of the company’s pet care operations is reflected in its new CEO. Poul Weihrauch, global president of Mars Petcare, will succeed Reid as CEO. Weihrauch started at the company in 2000 as a brand leader for Snickers, becoming president of the company’s pet care operations in 2014.
“During that time, [he] has overseen significant growth and diversification into veterinary health, diagnostics, data, and platforms, doubling the size of the business,” wrote the company in the release.
As a privately traded, family-owned company, Mars is not required to release public financial statements. In 2020, the Mars family ranked No. 3 on the Forbes “Billion-Dollar Dynasties” list.
That same year, progressive think tank the Institute for Policy Studies released a report on American billionaire families. Over the past four decades, the Mars family saw its wealth increase 3,517% from $2.8 billion in 1983 to $94 billion in 2020, according to the report.
Mars did not respond to Fortune‘s request for comment.
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