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Americans aren't losing their taste for chocolate. Need proof? Look to Kansas, where candy giant Mars Inc. is opening its first new plant in 35 years to churn out millions of chocolate bars and other sweets every day.
Company officials are throwing a grand opening Thursday for the sprawling, $270 million chocolate plant — which they say exists mostly to meet U.S. demand for its M&M's- and Snickers-brand candy.
The plant, built south of Topeka, will be able to produce 14 million bite-sized Snickers each day, as well as 39 million M&M's, enough to fill 1.5 million fun-sized packs.
Even in uncertain economic times, Matt Hudak, who follows the U.S. market for "impulse" foods as an analyst for market researcher Euromonitor International said, chocolate remains an "affordable luxury."
The new chocolate factory is a sign that Mars officials are well aware of the trend and are bullish about future sales.
"We have been growing, and we see future growth," Debra Sandler, president of Mars Chocolate North America, said in an interview ahead of the opening. "We need the capacity."
"There is little reason to suggest that, all of a sudden in the U.S., people will start to dislike chocolate," said Hudak.