Jim Duffy comment: A Mars a day – will it work in a healthier way?

The full-sugar, glucose version is staying put on the petrol station shelves, says Duffy. Picture: Ian Howarth.
The full-sugar, glucose version is staying put on the petrol station shelves, says Duffy. Picture: Ian Howarth.
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A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play… so they said.

And when I was younger I believed a Mars bar was part of what gave me the energy I needed to live.

You may recall the adverts where we learned that a Mars bar provided you with milk, glucose and sugar. All the necessary ingredients for putting a spring in your step. My packed lunch box usually had half a Mars bar in it, which I would devour at the school interval. This little sugar-filled gem saw me through to lunchtime. And it got even better…

For the real Mars bar enthusiast, the team at planet Mars brought out a massive Mars Bar that had even more milk, glucose and sugar. It was “really satisfying” and “great value”. It was the “biggest Mars bar ever.” And, as I recall, it took some amount of chomping to finish it, never mind digest it. But alas, all good things must come to an end. Well, kind of come to an end…

The team at Planet Mars has decided to introduce a new kind of Mars bar for the confectionery shelves in 2019. A 21st century Mars bar that has less sugar, glucose and the “bad” stuff that we now know is killing us all slowly, according to the sugar police. This new Mars bar will also have 10 milligrams of protein. So it will indeed be a big step up from simply high sugar, high calories. But the sugar purists need not worry too much just yet. No need to go stockpiling original Mars bars. The full-sugar, glucose version is staying put on the petrol station shelves.

I’m not sure if tastes are changing or if it is simply attitudes to the foods we eat that is the catalyst for the genesis of the new Mars bar. Certainly taxation and government policies are playing their part as the powers that be clamp down on the amount of sugar in our food.

The explosion of the cut-price gyms that are open 24 hours a day with no-nonsense contracts etc is also playing a big part in our new obsession with protein. Whereas in the 70s and 80s sugar and glucose were seen as necessary components of the ­athlete’s diet, protein is now leading the way as the primary ingredient in ­“gym-friendly” bars.

Self-service machines located in gyms are packed full with high-protein bars that provide energy, but at a much less intensive level than the older “energy” bars. Gym-goers are seeking better alternatives for sustained exercise that will feed their muscles and not over-feed their need for energy. Hence, I believe Mars is now bending to pressure from consumers. One can see that protein bars are taking top place in gym vending machines. That said, Mars bars still sit in pole position in petrol ­stations and supermarket “impulse” ­buying areas such as till points.

So, what now for the traditional Mars bar? Many iterations of foods that a lot of us grew up with have fallen from grace and no longer exist. But, in the case of the Mars bar, my gut feeling says it will stay the course and be around for at least another decade. Why?

There is something sacred about a Mars bar. Admittedly, it was never as exciting as a Boost, a Texan, a Snickers, a Twix, a KitKat, a Cabana or a Caramel, but it still had that power play of being packed with energy at a knock-down price. It was the energy king!

While many chocolate bars have passed away in the chocolate cemetery, the Mars bar has held on with many fans still seeking it to give them that “hit” they desire.

As we now appreciate that eating too much sugar is bad for us, the confectionery industry is changing. Of course, many of us still just love a bar of chocolate. I don’t think that will change any time soon. But more education and science is becoming available that may swing us further away from high-sugar chocolate bars.

The Mars bar is adapting, slowly morphing into something that appears “healthier”. But if I was writing this column in 2028, I bet the original will still be sitting proudly on the shelves.

Jim Duffy MBE, Create Special.