I realize we all have hometown loyalties and biases, which sometimes affect our judgment when it comes to making critical decisions, such as who makes the best pizza.
For example, there are folks who claim certain New York-style pizzas deserve top honors. Some even claim that a clam pie from Frank Pepe’s in New Haven, Conn., is to die for. But any serious connoisseurs know that a Chicago-style pizza remains king.
There’s no argument; it’s a simple statement of fact. Pizza operators in Brooklyn, Phoenix and San Francisco, just settle down. You’re good, but Chicago is pizza heaven. The two go hand-in-hand.
As does the city’s confectionery legacy. After all, this is where the National Confectioners Association was born. Moreover, many of the most famous candy brands in United States were either made or invented here, such as Brach's caramels, Mars’ Snickers bars, Wrigley's Juicy Fruit and Spearmint gums, Cracker Jack, Curtiss Baby Ruth bars, Tootsie Rolls, Frango Mints, Dove chocolates, Ferrara Candy Lemonheads and Red Hots just to name a few. You get the picture.
Hence, when I read the headline in yesterday’s Chicago Tribune that Mars Wrigley Confectionery was going to base its U.S. headquarters in Hackettstown and Newark, N.J., I was — to put it mildly — devastated. Granted, the company’s global headquarters will remain in Chicago, but the company’s official press release announced that its U.S. headquarters will be in its existing offices in Hackettstown, as well as a new location in New Jersey.
Berta de Pablos Barbier, president, Mars Wrigley Confectionery U.S., expressed the decision in the following way: “Mars is proud to have a strong legacy and future across both New Jersey and Illinois. Expanding in New Jersey will enable the continued growth of our U.S. business. We are fully committed to working with all of our associates to support them through this transition.
“Over the past year, we’ve been focused on creating Mars Wrigley Confectionery in the U.S. to better serve our customers, address consumer trends and accelerate growth opportunities in the vibrant U.S. confectionery category,” she added. “Creating U.S. offices in New Jersey will allow us to keep driving growth, while also positioning us to retain and attract the future talent needed for our continued success.”
Now, I’ve been to Hackettstown. It’s a pleasant place. But it’s no Chicago. As for New Jersey, I understand the state threw a lot of tax credits — $31 million over 10 years, to be precise — to secure Mars Wrigley Confectionery’s commitment. According to the Tribune, the move will transfer 205 jobs from Chicago to New Jersey. In total, the Garden State will benefit with an additional 1,500 jobs.
I realize that in today’s world you win some, you lose some. Chicago was definitely in the running, the Tribune says, and it seems certain Illinois also offered some tax credits. Perhaps, it wasn’t enough, which I gather makes this an economic decision. But let me throw out some arguments for my beloved city that perhaps weren’t considered.
First, Chicago is the nerve center of the Midwest, the kinder, gentler midsection of America where Red, Yellow and Green M&M’S would feel most welcome.
It operates on Central Time, which allows you to connect with folks coast-to-coast during reasonable times of the day. Moreover, you can get to anywhere from Chicago, say like the West Coast, in half a day.
Have I mentioned the candy connection? This where the Sweets & Snacks Expo is held and where Candy Industry presents its annual Kettle Award in the lovely Union League Club. We even have a cocoa and chocolate company, Blommer Chocolate, processing cocoa beans into chocolate right in our downtown. Does it get better than that?
Now I know the press release mentioned the fact that the Newark office represents a return to the company’s roots; something about Mars opening “its doors in Newark when M&M’S candies were first created in 1941 as military rations during World War II. The company also has deep roots and operations in Hackettstown since moving to the community in 1958 to accommodate growth.”
That’s grand, but keep in mind that Juicy Fruit gum was being distributed in Chicago during the Columbian Exposition in 1893. It’s Mars Wrigley Confectionery’s oldest brand. Now, that’s what I call roots.
Of course, I realize it would be difficult for the company to change its decision. But I’m a patient person. Being a Cubs fan does that to you. So, Berta, you might want to reconsider. Besides, we already have an ideal theme song for you, “Sweet Home Chicago.”
What do you say? Pizza’s on me if you do.