Tuesday, October 04, 2005


The Future of Candy

Lean manufacturing trends are moving many everyday products from commoditization to customization; candy is no exception. Used to you could get M&M candies in any color you wanted, as long as it was brown. Then more colors were added, but mixed together in a standard bag. Special color mixes were sold for certain holidays like the black and orange mixed bags for Halloween. Now, though, M&M has ‘discovered’ customization and you can buy specially mixed bags of M&M candies with any color or colors you want from their palette of 21 colors. It’s just the thing to spice up your corporate or university event. You can even order M&M’s with a custom message written on them in place of the standard “m”. I expect that soon they will sell bags of any custom color (instead of just the currently existing 21) or colors you want in a variety of sizes and flavors.

Now how long will it be before someone combines a 3d laser scanner with rapid prototyping technology to allow people to buy a custom Pez dispenser with a head that looks just like them on it? I expect that within a decade you’ll be able to buy one from a kiosk in the mall.

Update: Places that will sell you custom wrapped candy are common and, of course, custom decorated cakes are nothing new. The point of the M&M evolution is the change from a product that used to be a commodity into one with both a wide variety of "standard options" and that for a little more money can be highly customized (as has been happening with other products like cars) for a wealthier society that both wants and can afford to have more more individualized products. No doubt the next step in sweet treats is for everyone to get their own customized flavors. That would extend the lean and just-in-time mfg. even further, where the product is made right where and when it is sold. What would such a store look like? Like a cocktail bar for children. This is not to say that mass production was a wrong turn. In the 1950's there probably wasn't the technology nor the widespread wealth to make custom M&M candies profitable. I'd rather have standard brown M&M's than suck on a rock because I couldn't afford the high priced custom candy. Standardized products still have a place but increasingly customized ones will return, not because we've forgotten how to lower cost with mass production but because we can afford not to use it when we feel like having something special.

Another excellent post!
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