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Mars won’t substitute vegetable oil for cocoa butter

September 18, 2007

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— The maker of M&M's and Milky Way bars says it would be a mistake to mess with its chocolate.

Mars Inc. said Monday it will continue to use 100 percent cocoa butter in its U.S. chocolate products, bucking an industry campaign to allow cheaper vegetable oils to be substituted.

The announcement comes amid a push by a dozen food industry groups to change long-established federal standards to allow for replacing cocoa butter with another vegetable fat, up to a level of 5 percent. The groups say the change, which would save money for manufacturers, would allow more flexibility and innovation.

Manufacturers already can use vegetable fats instead of cocoa butter, but they are not allowed by the Food and Drug Administration to call it chocolate.

Mars, one of the largest chocolate manufacturers, disclosed the company's opposition to cocoa butter substitutes at the All Candy Expo in Chicago, North America's biggest candy trade show.

"Changing the definition of what chocolate is would be a mistake," said Todd Lachman, president of Hackettstown, N.J.-based Mars Snackfoods US. "The bottom line is that we're not going to change our chocolate. Today, Mars US chocolate products are pure, authentic chocolate and they're going to stay that way."

The company could have saved millions of dollars by going along with the move, but allowing vegetable oil would have diluted the quality of its chocolate, he said.

Mars' products include M&Ms, Dove Chocolate, Snickers, Milky Way, 3 Musketeers and Twix.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association, which is helping to lead the industry push for revised standards, declined comment on the Mars announcement, spokesman Scott Openshaw said. Spokeswomen for the Chocolate Manufacturers Association, which also is involved in the effort, and Nestle USA Inc., another large U.S. chocolate manufacturer, did not immediately return messages.

U.S. chocolate manufacturers have been split on whether to support a change in chocolate standards. While the financial savings would be substantial, consumers and some within the industry have been outspoken in their support for genuine chocolate and not a cheaper substitute.

As recently as 2000, Mars had said it would support allowing up to 5 percent vegetable fat to be used in chocolate.

The European Union has used a 5 percent ceiling since 2003.

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