Candymaker Mars wants to protect chocolate supply chain from climate change

WASHINGTON — McLean-based candy giant Mars needs a lot of chocolate, and it is partnering with a crop improvement company to protect the sweet’s sole source: the cacao tree.

Benson Hill Biosystems and Mars will work together to improve the productivity and climate resilience of the cacao tree, which is essential to chocolate production.

Mars makes Milky Way bars, M & M’s, Snickers and Twix bars, among other products.

Mars said aside from its own self-interest, protecting the tree also benefits millions of small farmers globally who depend on the trees for their livelihood. Mars said it has committed to sustainability throughout its operations, and that includes sharing expertise in science and technology with farmers for high-yielding, climate resistant, water-use-efficient and disease-resistant cacao.

“We want to enable farmers to produce more cocoa from less land,” said Dr. Howard Shapiro, chief agricultural officer of Mars. “By tapping into the natural genetic diversity of cacao, we can speed up the evolutionary process necessary for improved productivity, disease resistance and resiliency to climate change.”

Benson Hill’s computational platform and breeding and genome editing tools use a plant’s natural genetic diversity to improve sustainability, nutrition and flavor profiles with more precision than previously possible, the company said.

Mars itself has been investing in cacao breeding for over 20 years, including genome sequencing.

Mars, the largest privately-held company in the Washington area, has $35 billion in annual sales and more than 100,000 employees in 80 countries.

Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

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