Companies that shy away from their social and environmental commitments in the face of “nonsense” political attacks risk alienating a generation of talent, Mars’ new chief executive warned as he set out to double the group’s revenue over the next decade.
Sales of the family-owned Petcare, chocolate and chewing gum group could “double in a decade” to $90bn, Paul Wehrauch told the Financial Times in his first interview since becoming CEO last September. However, he added, its more important goal is “responsible” growth.
Companies’ environmental and social goals have become politicized, he said, but “quality companies are deeply invested in this and if I walk out of this office and I take a 25-year-old colleague who joined us from university, they’ll want us. To do this”.
Employees call Mars Associates “If we don’t care about ESG or purpose or whatever we call it, we won’t be with you. So from my chair, I think it’s a nonsense conversation,” Wehrach 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 with tradition of secrecy to emphasize its efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions and clean up its supply chain but has largely stayed out of the culture war clashes of the business world.
That changed last year when Tucker Carlson, a Fox News anchor with a large following among Republicans, began attacking the cartoon characters with which Mars advertises its M&M candies as “woke.”
Weihrauch suggested the attention boosted the brand, noting that a Super Bowl ad campaign that played on the controversy generated 25bn online impressions. “There are a lot of sales and it’s hard to keep up with orders,” he added.
Wehrauch argued that there is a need to “step up and take more responsibility” in areas such as providing recycling systems, while maintaining a dialogue with “good big businesses that want to make a change”.
Mars aims to more than double its spending on greenhouse gases, packaging and a sustainability agenda spanning its supply chain, it revealed, from $1.1bn in the past three years to $2.7bn in the next three years.
Last March, Mars said it would scale back its business in Russia to focus on “its essential role in feeding Russian people and pets.” Wehrauch defended the decision to keep some operations, saying it wanted to keep its 6,000 people safe in Russia but that it had stopped exporting “hundreds of millions” of dollars and donated all $12mn of profits from the country to humanitarian causes.
The former head of Mars’ petcare division said it was looking at both organic growth and acquisitions to double sales from $45bn last year, putting it somewhere between Procter & Gamble’s $80bn revenue and Nestlé’s $102bn sales in 2022.
With stable family ownership and a “very solid” balance sheet, he said, more potential sellers were looking at Mars as a “safe haven” in a high-inflation, high-rate economy where private equity and venture capital groups were less competitive.
Mars bought veterinary clinics operator VCA for $9.1bn in 2017 and acquired Wrigley’s chewing gum for $23bn in 2008 but its recent purchases have been smaller. Late last year it bought Canada’s Champion Petfoods and Tru Fru, a fruit-based snack brand, for an undisclosed sum.
Weihrauch said the group, which has 140,000 employees, was seeing “surprisingly good” growth everywhere except Europe, which was “hit pretty hard”.