Companies that back down from social and environmental commitments in the face of ‘senseless’ political attacks risk alienating a generation of talent, Mars’ new chief executive has warned as he raises the prospect of doubling the group’s revenue over the next decade.
Sales of the family-owned pet care, chocolate and chewing gum group “could well double in a decade” to $90 billion, Poul Weihrauch told the Financial Times in his first interview since taking office. became CEO last September. However, he added, his most important goal was “responsible” growth.
Corporate environmental and social goals have become politicized, he said, but “quality companies are deeply invested in this and if I step out of this office and take a 25-year-old associate who has joined us after college, they’ll want us to do that.”
The employees Mars calls associates “will not stay with us if we don’t care about ESG or purpose or whatever we call it. So from my chair, I think it’s a nonsense conversation,” Weihrauch said. “We don’t believe that purpose and profit are enemies.”
The company, which hires 25,000 people a year, has in recent years broken a tradition of secrecy to highlight its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and clean up its supply chains, but it was largely aloof from the clashes of the culture wars of business.
That changed last year when Tucker Carlson, the Fox News anchor with a large following among Republicans, began attacking by “waking up” the cartoon characters Mars advertised its candy M&Ms with.
Weihrauch suggested the attention boosted the brand, noting that a Super Bowl ad campaign that played on the controversy generated 25 billion online impressions. “There are a lot of sales and it’s hard to keep up with orders,” he added.
Politicians needed to “step in and take more responsibility” in areas such as providing recycling systems while maintaining a dialogue with “the good big companies that want to drive change,” Weihrauch explained.
Mars intended to more than double its spending on a sustainability program covering greenhouse gases, packaging and its supply chain, it revealed, from $1.1 billion to over the past three years to $2.7 billion over the next three.
Last March, Mars announced that it would reduce its activities in Russia to focus on its “essential role in feeding Russian people and domestic animals”. Weihrauch defended the decision to maintain some operations, saying he wanted to protect his 6,000 people in Russia but had halted “hundreds of millions” of exports and donated $12 million in profits until present in the country for humanitarian causes.
The former head of Mars’ petcare division said he is considering both organic growth and acquisitions to double sales from $45 billion last year. That would put the group between the $80 billion revenue reported by Procter & Gamble in 2022 and Nestlé’s $102 billion sales.
With stable family ownership and a “very strong” balance sheet, he said, more would-be sellers saw Mars as “a safe haven” in a high-inflation, high-rate economy where private equity groups and venture capital firms were less competitive.
Mars bought VCA, an operator of veterinary clinics, for $9.1 billion in 2017 and acquired Wrigley chewing gum for $23 billion in 2008, but its recent purchases have been smaller. Late last year, he bought Canada’s Champion Petfoods and Trü Frü, a brand of fruit-based snacks, for undisclosed sums.
Weihrauch said the group, which has 140,000 employees, was seeing “surprisingly good” growth everywhere except Europe, which had been “pretty hard hit”.