Consumer trust is more important than ever as the confectionery industry faces “tumultuous times”, the boss of Mars Wrigley Australia said in his keynote speech at ConTech2024. 

“First, there was Covid, now we face inflationary pressures,” Andrew Leakey told those at the Australian Industry Group confectionery industry event in Melbourne earlier this month. 

“Sugar and cocoa prices are high at the moment, and we’re all having to wrestle with that.” 

Mr Leakey revealed how customer support helped Mars Wrigley Australia navigate the challenges of installing its recyclable paper-based packaging line of Mars Bars at its Ballarat factory during the height of Covid when international borders were shut. 

“It was a brand-new line that cost about $30million and we had to install it using cameras, videos and microphones because the engineers were based in Holland,” he said. 

“That was a big challenge. On day one, it was running at 66 per cent capacity, which is very low. 

“It took us a while to tweak the machine to get it firing up at the same time as we were shifting over to recyclable paper-based packaging.” 

The cost pressures were huge, too. 

“It was going to cost us four cents more per packaging per bar,” Mr Leakey said. 

“Our factory in Ballarat produces 88million Mars Bars, Snickers and Milky Ways a year, so four cents times 88million — you can do the math.  

“But, was it the right thing to do? Absolutely. Did we want to be the first in the world to do it? Yes. Did we need support from our communities and packaging suppliers? Yes. 

“We decided it was going to take 360 cubic tonnes of plastic out of the supply chain a year, so it was absolutely the right thing to do. 

“We should have killed the project about four times, but we didn’t.  

“And while we couldn't get to fully paper-based in phase 1 — we went to 86 per cent paper-based with a thin layer of recyclable protective plastic — we aim to get there by the end of next year.  

“Our customers supported us from day one. Sustainability built on action builds trust.” 

Mr Leakey also shared how artificial intelligence (AI) was becoming increasingly relevant within the confectionery sector when used alongside “actual intelligence”. 

“It’s important to blend the two as we go forward,” he said. 

“I’ve seen some amazing technology, but to get value out of it, strong operator capability is needed for it to be implemented into our factories.” 

Not only is AI being used for innovation and new products, it’s also keeping factories operating, Mr Leakey said. 

“For example, we can no longer buy parts for some of our machines that are over 80 years old,” he said.  

“We now have engineers who are 3D-printing spare parts.  

“We have to keep looking forward. The skills of the past will not get us skilled up for the factories of tomorrow.” 

Mr Leakey praised the Australian Industry Group Confectionery Sector team, in particular Tim Piper and Jennifer Thompson, for their support. 

“They do an enormous amount of work to keep our industry robust,” he said. 

“We should be incredibly proud of the progress we’re making and the resilience of our industry.” 


Wendy Larter

Wendy Larter is Communications Manager at the Australian Industry Group. She has more than 20 years’ experience as a reporter, features writer, contributor and sub-editor for newspapers and magazines including The Courier-Mail in Brisbane and Metro, the News of the World, The Times and Elle in the UK.