🍫 How Hershey Built a $39B Empire

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🍫 How Hershey Built a $39B Empire

When people buy chocolate, they don’t buy the cheapest brand. They buy the best brand.

In 1900, Milton Hershey changed the culture around chocolate, bringing it from being a luxury for the wealthy to an affordable treat for the average American.

Years later, chocolate changed his life. The company he started as a dream is now worth $39B.

What’s the story behind one of America’s favorite chocolate brands? How has Hershey stayed relevant amidst increasing competition?

Here’s what we got for ya:

  • 👀 The Man Who Changed Chocolate Forever

  • 🍭 Milton Hershey & The Chocolate Factory

  • 📈 Staying Ahead of Trends

Read time: 4 min 57 sec

👀 The Man Who Changed Chocolate Forever

In 1872, the journey that would forever transform the lives of chocolate lovers began.

Milton Hershey, just 14 years old, discovered his passion for candy making while working as an apprentice at a candy shop. 

In 1876, he opened his first shop in Philadelphia. 

Trade card from the first shop

The timing was perfect. Philadelphia was hosting the country’s first World Fair and was filled with tourists. 

Hershey worked around the clock, sometimes falling asleep in the store. But no matter how hard he worked, he couldn’t earn enough to hire employees or buy better equipment.

So, when the World Fair ended, so did Hershey’s first business. 

Instead of giving up, he apprenticed at another candy shop and mastered caramel-making. 

He moved back to his hometown to open Lancaster Caramel Company. Mixing his caramels with fresh milk, Milton created an irresistibly delicious treat. 

Hershey’s luck soared when a rich English businessman tasted the caramels. He was so impressed he bought them in bulk to sell back home. Soon, Milton was receiving more and more international orders. Lancaster Caramels was a success.

But Milton wasn’t satisfied. At the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, he met a German chocolatier and tried chocolate for the first time. 

His world (and ours) was forever changed… 

Milton sold his successful caramel business for $1M. People called him crazy, abandoning success to take a risk on chocolate, a candy only for the wealthy.

But Milton had a vision. He thought caramels were a fad, but chocolate… chocolate would be a forever thing.

Hershey wanted to make his chocolate affordable for the average American. But chocolate was expensive to keep fresh. The milk would turn rancid after a few days. And chocolate without milk is too bitter.

So Milton hired a team that discovered if they condensed the milk first, it would stay good for months.

And so in 1894, The Hershey Company was in business, selling chocolate bars for just 5¢ each.

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🍭 Milton Hershey & The Chocolate Factory

Milton Hershey had been using creative tactics to boost his business ever since he opened his first candy shop. 

In those early days, he installed an air chute that wafted the sweet scent of candy into the outside air to attract customers.

Now, with The Hershey Company, he continued working overtime to generate new ideas.

To start, he focused on making quality chocolate products that everyone would enjoy, like the milk chocolate bar, Hershey’s Kisses, and Mr. Goodbar. Keeping the selection smaller at first helped the prices stay low.

By 1910, chocolate sales surpassed $2M and continued to climb.

Milton had a unique idea of how to use the money to increase productivity, enhance his employees’ happiness, and promote Hershey’s chocolate.

He got to work and built Hershey, Pennsylvania, a town for his employees with affordable houses, free private schools, parks, and public transport. 

Look at the streetlights!

But he didn’t stop there. To showcase the brand’s image and connect with customers, he printed postcards of the town and placed them in every chocolate bar.

This innovative marketing strategy expanded the brand’s image as not just chocolate, but a community.

And if tourists want to visit Hershey, they will be rewarded with Hershey’s Chocolate World and Hershey Park.

Proceed with caution…

With all its products and experiences, Hershey generates annual net sales of over $10B worldwide.

It’s the authentic trust built into the company that made it a staple in Americans’ sweet tooth cravings. 

Let’s look at a classic example of Hershey in American culture.

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📈 Staying Ahead of Trends

What is the one thing more important to bring on a camping trip than tents or sleeping bags?


Sitting around the campfire would be incomplete without the smell of slightly burnt marshmallows, Hershey’s chocolate smeared all over, and graham cracker crumbs everywhere.

While some people have tried to deviate from using Hershey’s classic milk chocolate bar for something like Reeses (still a Hershey brand btw), it changes the whole DNA of the S’more.

As someone from Reddit beautifully said:

Now, S’mores have been an American classic for as long as I can remember. But something happened in 2020 that made Americans crave s’more. 

When COVID-19 cases were peaking, so was the demand for S’mores. People were stuck at home and searching for new ways to stay entertained and connected with their families.

Hershey described this phenomenon for their chocolate sales as:

Here’s how they achieved a 30% growth in milk chocolate six-pack sales in 2020:

#1- Right product: Anticipating increased demand, they ramped up production of six-packs of Hershey bars and launched their S’mores marketing campaign four weeks earlier than usual. 

#2- Right place: Using data, Hershey tracked consumer mobility trends and COVID-19 cases to identify areas with higher demand.

#3- Right message: S’mores were promoted as a COVID-safe summer activity that could be enjoyed at home. Hershey increased their media investment by 50%, tailoring the ads to the season. Starting in mid-March, ads highlighted the excitement of warmer weather and outdoor activities, like this:

By mid-summer, ads encouraged consumers to make the most of the fleeting summer.

By adapting to cultural trends, Hershey capitalized on Americans staying at home during the pandemic.

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