Smarties were released by Roundtree in the UK in 1937. M&Ms followed a few years later in 1941. In fact, the inspiration for M&Ms were said to be Smarties themselves.
For American readers, we want to clarify that the Smarties that we’re talking about here are candy-coated chocolates that come in a box, originally made by Roundtree’s. We’re not talking about Smarties, the sugary tablets that come in a roll in the United States.
H.I. Roundtree and Co. a candy business in the UK began selling “Smarties chocolate beans” in 1937. They had been selling chocolate beans as far back as 1882 but the name Smarties wasn’t applied to the product until 1937.
The name Smarties was part of a renaming strategy that Roundtree was employing at the time.
But a pivotal moment in the sweet’s history came soon after the firm’s marketing director George Harris returned from the United States, where he had been inspired by the way American confectioners were creating brands for products.
“Until that point our chocolates were named after royalty – Queen’s Chocolate, Emperor’s Chocolate, etc. But Harris wanted to give things a personality,” said Miss Hutchinson.
“He gave our old products new names – Rowntree’s Clear Gums became Fruit Gums, Aerated Chocolate became Aero, Chocolate Crisp became KitKat.”
M&Ms were introduced in 1941 by a company known as Mars & Murrie, officially M&M Ltd. The company was a collaboration between the sons of two of the largest candy companies in the United States. Forrest Mars (Sr.) was the son of Frank Mars, founder of the Mars Company, and Bruce Murrie was the son of the president of Hershey’s Chocolate.
Forrest Mars got the idea for the product after encountering Roundtree’s Smarties while in Europe during the Spanish Civil War.
While abroad, Forrest Mars Sr. noticed British soldiers eating small, pill-sized candies called Smarties, made of a chocolate center and a hard candy shell. He was shocked to see that the candies held up in the summer heat, and that they were small and easy to transport.
Where are they now?
Nestlé bought Roundtree in 1988 and sells Smarties all around the world, except the US (because of the trademark held by the Smarties Candy Company). Interestingly, the US Smarties company was not formed until 1949, but they apparently secured the US trademark before Roundtree was able to.
In 1949, Mars bought out Bruce Murrie’s share and M&Ms became the property of the Mars Company. The candies are currently the flagship product of the Mars Inc. division Mars Wrigley Confectionary.