Purpose, Strategy & Culture

After 125 Years, Hershey Reflects on Remaining True to its Purpose Today

Todd Tillemans
  • After 125 years, purpose remains our North Star.
  • Since the beginning, Milton Hershey set out to bring communities together. The Hershey Company continues to do that today.

Every year, our business is about looking ahead. We’re planning our business around the next year, or five years from now, or 20 years down the line, envisioning what’s in our future as an innovative snacking powerhouse. So it's special that  Hershey is turning 125 this year, and gives us a chance to reflect on our past and on our purpose.

We're Builders of Connection

I feel very fortunate to be leading the U.S. business for such an iconic company. Since its beginnings, The Hershey Company has been about making more moments of goodness and melting the distance between people. That goes back to our founder, Milton Hershey, who believed that a chocolate bar could put smiles on faces and bring communities together. At a time when only wealthy people could afford to buy chocolate, he offered the Hershey's bar for just a nickel. That legacy of sharing isn’t just a story from the past. It lives on today, in the form of a man named Bob Williams, who, even in his 90s, has been handing out thousands of Hershey's Milk Chocolate Bars for more than 15 years in his town of Long Grove, Iowa.

"It puts a smile on their face," Williams told us. "It just makes me feel good." In fact, Williams inspired us at Hershey to follow his lead and hand out Hershey's Milk Chocolate Bars to neighbors, friends, family and strangers. We did it as a team in Hershey, Pennsylvania last September 13, which is Milton Hershey’s birthday. And I’ve done it, myself, many times since. It really is powerful, the emotional connection you can make with such a seemingly small exchange.

Activating Purposeful Business

In 2019, we took it a step further. After talking to people in a neighborhood of New Orleans, we learned that many of them didn’t know their own neighbors. We decided to drop off a massive wooden crate filled with all the things you need to make s’mores—Hershey's Milk Chocolate Bars, graham crackers, marshmallows, skewers—and we threw a block party, bringing the community together. We saw, firsthand, how s’mores create connections and memories, and we’re encouraging other communities to have their own “S’mores Saturday” to see what transpires.

With back-to-school approaching, we’ve created a new, limited edition Hershey's Chocolate Bar that will help kids connect. For the first time in Hershey history, we’ve changed the bar’s original design so that each rectangle will hold one of 25 different emojis. They’re perfect for sharing, for breaking down barriers, for making friends in those early days of school.

This power to connect is in our DNA. Like I said, it’s something that’s always been there, but only recently have we felt compelled to talk about it. We’re at a challenging time in our lives, where technology sometimes seems to get in the way of real human interactions. Because of that, we’ve found an important opportunity for our snack products to break through barriers and create connections so many of us are craving. In some ways, we’ve rediscovered our purpose, even though it’s always been there.

Sharing Our Purpose with Our Partners

Our purpose is also what binds us to our retail partners. When our sales teams talk to store leaders, they hear time and again that this is what customers want. Today’s shoppers are purpose-driven and they’re seeking products from companies that are similarly minded. When we come together to do joint business planning with retailers, we align in our values as well as our commercial mindset. Hershey's is more than $2 billion in retail sales, Reese’s just hit $2 billion and Kit Kat is on its way to becoming a $1 billion brand. In fact, the new Kit Kat Duos Mint + Chocolate just won the Chocolate category at the 2019 Sweets & Snacks Expo Most Innovative New Product Awards. It’s an example of our dedication to innovation, and it’ll be coming to stores in December.  

As we celebrate 125 years of business, we at The Hershey Company are as consumer and customer-focused as ever, and that allows us to maintain the relevance of our brands, while also fulfilling our purpose. And it's something we’re all hungry for.