Illinois got a little brighter this week. The state is now home to the most delicious rainbow anyone has ever tasted — Skittles.
Wrigley, a subsidiary of Mars, Inc., opened a state-of-the-art addition to its Yorkville, Ill., factory featuring a new Skittles line. Built as a 145,000-sq.-ft. addition to the Yorkville plant, which already was producing Wrigley sugar gums, the new part of the factory plays up the famous Skittles array of colors. Featuring floods of natural light, duct work in the shades of Skittles flavors, and large rainbow murals, it’s the stuff kids and candy makers dream of.
The expansion is the result of a $50-million investment by Mars, and it adds 75 new jobs to the factory — a 25 percent increase in the workforce at the facility.
“This was really an ideal location,” says Wrigley Americas President Casey Keller, who donned a bright blue jacket and a Skittles handkerchief during the grand opening celebration, while using scissors covered in plastic Skittles for the ribbon cutting. “We believe in building plants where we sell the products.”
Yorkville, which is just outside of Chicago, is an especially relevant location for Wrigley, which has called the city home for 125 years.
“We’re proud to be in the state where we originally started,” Keller says.
Brian Pardo, factory director for the Yorkville plant, says it took almost exactly two years from the groundbreaking in June 2014 to this week’s ribbon cutting.
Of course, making Skittles is a little different than making gum.
“It was a learning process for everybody,” he says. “We hired 75 people for Skittles, so all the new associates we hired for Skittles had to learn the process.”
Wrigley sent a lot of employees to the Skittles factory in Waco, Texas, to learn how to make the colorful candy, and staff from Waco also came up to Yorkville to help set things up. In addition, Wrigley worked with the local community college on training programs for the new employees.
And he says his most pleasant surprise with the whole process has been how amazing all the new employees have been.
“I’ve worked very closely with them as we’ve been getting the factory up online and they’re fantastic,” Pardo says. “They’re willing to jump in and help out and do anything they need to do to get the place up and running, and it’s no different than our existing factory associates on the other side, on the gum. This is the best group of associates I’ve ever worked with in my career.”
Currently the factory is running the Skittles line 24/7, while the gum side runs 24/5.
“Once you start making [Skittles], you don’t want to take it down,” Pardo explains.
The new Skittles line features three levels. First they mix the dry ingredients, then they create a “pip”, which is a clear Skittles-shaped piece of candy that starts off as hard as rock. The pips soften over time, and are then coated in the various colors and a layer of shine.
After that, the five flavors are blended together. For the classic red Skittles bag, that’s grape, orange, green apple, lemon and strawberry.
The Yorkville expansion reflects the unprecedented growth of the Skittles brand. The popular rainbow-colored candy is now the No. 1 non-chocolate confectionery brand in the United States, a distinction Wrigley says is fueled by best-in-class marketing, retail activity, innovation and passionate fans.
In addition to Skittles, Wrigley's Yorkville factory produces iconic brands such as Life Savers, Doublemint and Juicy Fruit. The company's growth in the state of Illinois was assisted by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Yorkville Area Chamber of Commerce, City of Yorkville and Kendall County.
"Wrigley is an iconic Illinois company, and we are proud it is continuing to grow in our state," says Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner. "Wrigley has invested nearly $200 million in Illinois over the past seven years, creating hundreds of jobs for Illinois residents. The State of Illinois is glad to be a partner in Wrigley's further expansion."
The new Skittles line in Yorkville is the latest example of Mars' ongoing commitment to advancing the communities where it operates through economic investment, job creation and sustainable practices. In the past five years, Mars has invested $1 billion in U.S. factories and operations, creating more than 1,000 jobs.
The global manufacturer's recent investments in the United States. include the opening of a new Mars Chocolate factory in Topeka, Kan.; the expansion of a Mars Chocolate factory in Albany, Ga.; the opening of a new Mars Petcare Innovation Center in Thompson's Station, Tenn.; and the construction of a new Mars Drinks campus in Westchester, N.Y. — among many other upcoming projects. In the next two years, the company will invest an additional $900 million in expansion of operations and employee training and development.