From a consumer’s perspective, ice cream is about fun and good times. The ice cream division of Mars Chocolate North America shares that point of view. Evidence of the company’s sense of humor is a banner welcoming visitors to Mars’ little “corner ice cream shop.” In fact, the processing facility is larger than an airplane hangar. The building consists of four production lines, wet and dry ingredient storage areas, packaging supplies and a warehouse.

Mars makes ice cream bars, sandwiches, stick novelties and cones at a facility in Burr Ridge, Ill., a suburb of Chicago. Mars entered the ice cream business in 1986 with the acquisition of Dove ice cream from the Stefanos family.

Within the first year of the acquisition, Mars moved the business to the current location, built originally for trucks parts manufacturing. At first, the site produced only Dove Ice Cream bars, and a bell was rung every time a truckload was sold. The Snickers Ice Cream Bar line was added in 1991, and the current cone and stick lines in 2000. Other ice cream novelties made here are Snickers Ice Cream Bars and Cones, Milky Way Ice Cream Bars, Twix Ice Cream Bars, M&M’s Cookies and Cones, and Snickers Brownie Bar and Cones. All of Mars’ ice cream novelties for the North American market are manufactured in this facility. (Pints are filled by a co-manufacturer.)

The ice cream sandwich line was replaced in 2011. It’s a hybrid of automation and human labor. On the day of Dairy Foods’ visit, associates were loading hoppers with cookies studded with M&M’s. The bottom cookies moved two abreast (the line is capable of producing four units at a time) down a conveyor and under a filler, which deposited ice cream the consistency of soft-serve. As the cookie passed down the line, an associate placed the top cookie by hand, and the novelty was conveyed into a spiral blast freezer.

Upon exiting the freezer, the sandwiches passed under a camera which checked for the presence of a top and bottom cookie, proper alignment of the cookies and other standards. Then each ice cream sandwich was wrapped and hand-packed into boxes marked for wholesale or retail sale. The boxes moved by overhead conveyor to the secondary packaging line where they were case-packed according to customer requirements (for example, six boxes per case).


Premium ingredients

Mars buys the cookies and brownies for the sandwiches and shortbread for the Twix Bars from outside sources because its competency is ice cream, not in baking, says Kim Latham, the Ice Cream Supply Director. The company buys ice cream mix from several regional suppliers in the Midwest who source milk from local farmers. Other ingredients, including the M&M’s chocolate candies obviously, come from Mars. Mars makes its own chocolate. It is in control of the process from “bean to bar,” says Laurie Winward, Director of Research and Development.

The processor makes its own caramel for its Milky Way, Snickers and Twix novelties. Winward says new hires in product development are taught how to make “a proper” caramel.