Beneath M&M's candy-coated image switcheroo is a dark chocolatey, ethically broke business

Who knew that the ousting of supposedly "woke" M&M’s mascots is an example of adversaries finding common ground?

By Melanie McFarland

Senior Critic

Published January 28, 2023 3:30PM (EST)

Maya Rudolf and M&Ms (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images/Mars Inc.)
Maya Rudolf and M&Ms (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images/Mars Inc.)

In a future where drastic climate change has made the cultivation of cocoa trees impossible, and ragged elders make their children drool with their garbage fireside fables of the mythical treats known as M&M's, people may look back at Mars, Incorporated's 2023 banishment of its "spokescandies" after nearly 30 years of service as a strange irony.

Although our forebears didn't realize it at the time, those wise ones might say, here was an example of violently oppositional partisan forces agreeing on something.

It's true, the supposed ousting of M&M's mascots is the latest example of how stupid our society has become. But it's also a rare instance of enemies finding common ground. Nobody – not liberals, not moderates, definitely not Fox News viewers – appreciated Mars' widely promoted demonstrations of corporate pandering.

But we failed to recognize that because Tucker Carlson's shoe fetish distracted us. In our defense, the pundit's indignance over Green M&M swapping her go-go boots for sneakers is the type of hilarity the Internet lives for.

"I bet you didn't think M&M's were pushing intolerance, but they were!" he fumed when the company announced the "female" animated character's wardrobe update a year ago as part of a general personality overhaul for the candy's avatars. "Why the change? Well, according to M&M's, 'We all win when we see more women in leading roles.' Because leading women do not wear sexy boots, leading women wear frumpy shoes, the frumpier the better. That's the rule."

Carlson continued his rant by pointing out that Brown M&M's stilettos were replaced with lower block-style heels. A couple of weeks ago he harrumphed over the recent introduction of the Purple peanut M&M, which he deems to be "plus-sized" and "obese" as opposed to "with nut," as Stephen Colbert pointed out in a recent episode of "The Late Show."

"M&M's will not be satisfied until every last cartoon character is deeply unappealing and totally androgynous!" mourned Carlson. "Until the moment you wouldn't want to have a drink with any one of them! That's the goal. When you're totally turned off, we've achieved equity."

Generally, the only drinks people want to have with these button-sized morsels are milk, soda, maybe a moderately priced red, but whatever. Carlson can now officially untuck, because Mars Wrigley has dismissed its generally beloved CGI spheres for a new human spokesperson, the as-yet controversy-free, former "Seventh Generation" pitchperson Maya Rudolph.

By the way, I'm only appending that "as-yet" qualifier to account for Fox News' endless hunger to spin controversy out of anything and everything. If Rudolph sneezes wrong, the conservative media ecosystem will be more than happy to blame her for, say, the stock market plummeting.

We've learned a lot about Carlson through his peculiar crusade to cancel sarcastic Red, anxious Orange, dopey Yellow, whatever Blue is supposed to be, girl boss Brown, self-accepting Purple and Green, the crew's oversexed thot. Putting the Fox News host's candy kink aside for a moment, the M&M's mascots' exile does provide a decent lesson about virtue signaling.   

The M&M's mascots' exile provides a decent lesson about virtue signaling.   

In January 2022 Mars, Inc. announced its intent to reflect a "more dynamic, progressive world" by updating their candy characters' personalities. That was their first mistake. Instead of quietly making a few tweaks and going about their business, they alerted the media that Orange would "embrace his true self, worries and all" mainly by tying his shoes.

Green and Brown, meanwhile, would be a "force supporting women" and rededicate themselves to "throwing shine and not shade," the company declared. Green would no longer devote herself to trying to make Red, Yellow, or Blue pop their Snickers but, instead, bills her purpose as "being a hypewoman for my friends."

Women really appreciated that support, especially a few months later when the overturning of Roe V. Wade and escalating attacks on the rights of LGBTQ+ people sent millions of us into stress-eating mode. Once again, though, Mars came through by introducing Purple, the first new color in a decade, at the end of September 2022.

Purple, you see, is a singer who favors combat boots and has a single called "I'm Just Gonna Be Me," which has been streamed on Spotify alone an incredible 3,568 times.

"[O]ur new character reminds us to celebrate what makes us unique," enthused Mars Wrigley global vice president Jane Hwang in a statement, touting the relatability of Purple, "including her willingness to embrace her true self."

There are few moves marginalized folks and their allies appreciate less than a corporation co-opting their struggle to move units without doing anything to fundamentally make a difference in their lives. Even the notion that people would look at their snacks and think to themselves, "Here I go, eating my feelings – but also, thanks to what I know about Brown M&M's, digesting my empowerment!" is ludicrous.

Mind you, amplifying the various M&M's character's individuality doesn't approach the egregious tastelessness of that Pepsi fever dream showing Kendall Jenner solving police violence by offering a can of soda to cops at a protest. That was placing chewing gum on a bullet wound, whereas the M&M's spillover into identity politics amounts to empty calories.

M&M's has, in a minor way, backed up its declared progressiveness with minor monetary contributions to causes most conservatives would consider to be left-leaning. Earlier this month it launched a limited-edition package in recognition of International Women's Day, each featuring Green, Brown, and Purple upside down – wow! – in a show of "supporting women flipping the status quo."

The first-ever all-female limited edition packs featuring M&M's three female characters - Purple, Brown and Green - upside down to illustrate the candy's "Supporting Women: Flipping the Status Quo" messaging (Mars, Incorporated)A dollar from every pack sold supported partnerships with She Is The Music and We Are Moving the Needle, according to a company press release, but only up to $500,000. A cool $300,000 in additional donations were made to Female Founder Collective, the Geena Davis Institute On Gender In Media, and "women who are flipping the status quo, as part of the overall program."

Terrific, until you consider that the Mars family, which owns Mars Inc., is estimated to be worth upwards of $94 billion, which certainly makes those heralded contributions look like a pile of Purple's innards.

Regardless of that, such shows of charity explain why the fictional M&M's representatives made such convenient targets, along with knowing that, according to, more than 90% of Mars, Inc.'s political donations in 2018, 2020 and 2022 went to Democratic candidates.

Despite all of the mileage Carlson and every other Fox News host have gotten out of calling the company "woke" – and Mars, Inc.'s declared intent in January 2022 "to use the power of fun to include everyone, with a goal of increasing the sense of belonging for 10 million people around the world by 2025" – not so fast.

In February 2021, eight citizens of Mali who alleged they were used as slave laborers on Ivory Coast cocoa plantations when they were children brought a lawsuit against several companies, including Mars, through International Rights Advocates. It marked the first time that a class action suit of this type was filed against the cocoa industry in a United States court. 

This followed the expansive Washington Post report published in June 2019 that followed several child laborers into the fields, where reporters chronicled the squalor they're forced to live in as they work without pay or the liberty to receive an education.

The story states that around two-thirds of the world's cocoa supply comes from West Africa and, according to a 2015 U.S. Labor Department report, more than 2 million children were engaged in dangerous labor there.

"The world's chocolate companies have missed deadlines to uproot child labor from their cocoa supply chains in 2005, 2008, and 2010. Next year, they face another target date and, industry officials indicate, they probably will miss that, too," the article states. Later, it adds, "When asked this spring, representatives of some of the biggest and best-known brands — Hershey, Mars and Nestlé — could not guarantee that any of their chocolates were produced without child labor."

Little of this is reflected in the Mars Wrigley report titled "Respecting Human Rights in the Cocoa Supply Chain" which, on its third page, shows Mars Wrigley's global president Andrew Clarke smiling broadly while holding a cacao pod.

"In September 2019, I was privileged to visit Côte d'Ivoire, the world's largest producer of cocoa, where I had a unique opportunity to meet farmers and their families and see first-hand how life in their villages and communities revolves around cocoa," Clarke says in his introductory letter. "This incredible experience reminded me how important thriving cocoa farmers are to our Mars Wrigley chocolate brands, and how critical it is that we continue to live our Purpose: Better Moments Make the World Smile."

As part of creating "Better Moments and More Smiles," the report says that in that year, the company introduced "a set of expectations of our suppliers, which include having robust systems in place designed to monitor, identify, and remediate any human rights issues."

"We will seek to ensure 100% of at-risk families in our cocoa supply chains are covered by Robust Child labor and Forced Labor Monitoring and Remediation Systems by 2025," the report indicates.

In June 2021, the United States Supreme Court ruled eight-to-one to dismiss the Mali mens' claim against Mars Inc. and the other defendants, brought under the Alien Tort Statute, which allows non-U.S. citizens seek damages in American courts in certain instances.  A second suit brought under the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act was dismissed by a federal judge in June 2022. (Better moments, more smiles!)

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Once Fox News dials back on celebrating its cancellation of a band of cartoons that have been around since 1994, guess what? People will keep on inhaling M&M's with the same vigor as they have for most of the 81 years of the confection's existence. It remains one of the most popular candies in the United States according to multiple sources.

Rudolph's reign as M&M's "chief of fun and spokesperson" and "Lady Awesome" has already resulted in a temporary promotional name change to "Ma&Ya's" – get it? Her hire is not a reaction to Carlson's latest vexation, but rather a precursor to a new ad campaign premiering during Super Bowl LVII on Sunday, Feb.12.

If she can't help "create a world where everyone feels they belong," as a company spokesperson assured that Rudolph will, then no living being is up to the task. In that scenario, M&Ms might as well revive the spokescandies, recalling that for a little while, they were proven unifiers.


By Melanie McFarland

Melanie McFarland is Salon's award-winning senior culture critic. Follow her on Twitter: @McTelevision

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Candy Chocolate Commentary Culture Wars Food Fox News M&m's Maya Rudolph Super Bowl Tucker Carlson Virtue Signaling