The expansion will include hiring 50 new employees at the MARS CHOCOLATE NA facility on Peerless Road, according to an announcement by Joe Burton, Cleveland plant manager who has held the position since January.
A native Tennesseean, Burton has returned to run one of the biggest companies in Bradley County.
“My job is ever-changing,” Burton said. “Every day is a new adventure. It’s fun and challenging. My goal is to help shape the future.”
The M&Ms, Twix and Pretzel M&Ms candies are existing products made at the facility. The plant also produces Three Musketeer candy bars.
A global company, MARS has locations in 63 countries.
“I’m so excited about the business expansion,” Burton said.
Burton is the sixth plant manager at the Cleveland plant since it opened in 1977.
He was born and raised in Crossville. His parents are from Knoxville and his grandparents from Red Bank. Burton and his family lived in Cleveland in 2002 and 2003 when he first worked on the management team at the local MARS plant.
“It’s like coming home,” Burton said.
Just before returning to Cleveland this year, Burton worked with MARS at its pet food division in Franklin. He started out in Bentonville, Ark., in the sale office largely selling to Wal-Mart Stores Inc. He’s been with MARS for 10 years. Before MARS, Burton worked for Nabisco eight years.
“I’ve been in supply chain roles for the past 18 years,” Burton said.
Burton graduated with a bachelor’s from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville in 1993 in the supply chain/logistics program. Burton has earned an MBA at Clemson University.
Burton and his wife, Cathy, have three children: Elena, 9, and Dara, 7. Both attend Arnold Elementary, and Cooper, 3, goes to the Montessori Kinder school.
“They are absolutely loving the schools here,” he said.
And all the kids love it that their father works at a chocolate factory.
“My kids ask me what I do all the time,” Burton said. Jokingly, he said, “I sometimes feel like I’m at Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.”
Burton provides leadership, training, opportunities, encouragement for the 500 regular full-time employees and 200 seasonal employees that hail from Bradley and surrounding counties. “It’s such a great area for growth and I try to provide support for everyone in the plant. The Cleveland plant is one of our largest plants in the world.”
Burton also oversees the constantly improving technology while also focusing on safety, quality and continual product improvement.
“As a food manufacturer, it’s our responsibility to make sure our products are of the highest quality,” he said. “We have a huge focus on quality every day.”
Maintaining a sustainable plant is also a major concern of Burton’s and the company’s.
“By 2040, we have a goal of sending zero waste to landfills as well as getting 100 percent of our energy from renewable sources,” Burton said.
He also helps foster the congenial and cohesive work environment at the plant.
“Visitors are always asking me ‘Are the people at your site always so friendly?’” Burton offered. “‘Yes, I answer, our people are genuinely friendly and welcoming.’”
At the MARS company, five principles guide them in the daily choices they make and the manner in which they do business.
“Quality, responsibility, mutuality, efficiency and freedom are the principles instilled by the Mars family and have maintained our culture through generations,” Burton said.
To demonstrate these philosophies, MARS makes a point of having a positive impact on the Cleveland/Bradley County community.
“I personally feel we have a commitment to give back,” he said.
The Cleveland MARS plant sponsors an annual Fishing Rodeo for children with disabilities which attracts more than 50 kids from Bradley County each year and more than 100 parents and volunteers.
“It’s a big event for the children,” Burton said. “And it’s a great event our associates really love.”
MARS in Cleveland is also a BEST partner with Cleveland High School. The MARS plant shares its property with CHS for an athletic field and is also partnering with the city on part of the new Cleveland/Bradley Greenway extension.
Last year, 30 different community activities — from the Boys & Girls Clubs, the MS Walk, the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and Special Olympics, among others — were supported by the Cleveland MARS plant.
“It’s always been a personal passion of mine,” Burton said. “I’ve always been active in the community. Now, I’ve created a community team for associates to get more involved.”
The MARS company was launched in 1911 when Frank C. Mars and his wife Ethel started making and selling butter cream candies from their home in Tacoma, Wash. Technically, MARS is celebrating the 100th year of its unofficial founding this year.
From this humble beginning, MARS has now become a global company with six business segments, including Chocolate, Petcare, Wrigley Gum and Confections, Food, Drinks and Symbioscience. Annual revenues total more than $30 billion. The parent company MARS has more than 200 individual brands.
The Cleveland plant, sitting on 243 acres, was renovated from what used to be a woolen mill. The building itself covers 15 acres.As now the world’s leading confectionery company after MARS’ acquisition of the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company in 2008, it has five $1 billion confectionery brands: M&M’S®, SNICKERS®, DOVE®, MARS®, EXTRA® and ORBIT®.MARS also is the world’s leading petcare company with three $1 billion petcare brands: PEDIGREE®, ROYAL CANIN® and WHISKAS®.
Although in actual production for a couple of years, a new coffee product geared mainly toward use within companies is currently starting to increase in sales and in interest.
“It’s really starting to pick up and grow,” Burton said.It’s called FLAVIA — a single-serve, freshbrew system. FLAVIA offers a wide variety of coffees, teas and hot chocolates brewed directly from single serve packets to cup.
And for those wondering, here’s the skinny on those beloved M&M’s.
The blue, green and orange M&M’s are the most prominent colors found in each and every bag of M&M’s, equally around 20 percent each. The remaining 40 percent is divided equally among the red, yellow and brown M&M’s.
MARS produces 300 million M&Ms per day.