Happy Birthday Milton Hershey! Still Inspiring Innovation


Whitney Mayer
Manager of Social Innovation, The Hershey Company

History has always been my favorite subject. Whether it be studying great leaders or learning about foreign relations, I find it fascinating how the past influences our modern experiences. For a company like Hershey, history and the legacy of our founder, Milton Hershey, continues to inspire us. September 13 would have been Milton’s 160th birthday – the man who gave us Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bars, Hershey’s Kisses Chocolates, Krackel Chocolate Bar, and more.

In this era of digital communications and rapid innovation – I find myself reflecting on the past and asking what would have inspired Milton Hershey today? What innovation and new thinking to shape and disrupt the future would he embrace? How would he do this in a purpose-driven way that reflects his values and commitment to community?

In addition to building a beloved chocolate company, Milton was a true innovator who developed partnerships that not only benefitted his business, but also the community and in many cases other entrepreneurs. For example, when Harry B. Reese began making Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, the beloved brand The Hershey Company owns today, Milton was happy to sell him the chocolate he needed to produce the product. In Cuba, in addition to growing and refining his own sugar, Milton sought to diversify the economy and create more consistent employment by entering other industries, such as peanut oil production and opening a henequen plant to process the fibers from henequen leaves used for making rope.   

In my role as Social Innovation Manager at The Hershey Company, I develop and manage unique partnerships, business and financial models that drive our business while making a positive difference in the world. I’d like to think that Milton would be proud of the innovative approach to our most recent efforts.

Fostering Affordable Nutrition

Earlier this year, we partnered with Village Capital, a social investment organization that identifies, trains, and invests in entrepreneurs solving real-world problems. With Village Capital we created the West Africa Affordable Nutrition Forum, a showcase for startups from Ghana, Nigeria and Cote d'Ivoire that are working to make nutrition more affordable and accessible in their communities. At the forum, 10 finalists were picked from more than 200 applicants after sessions in which their businesses were evaluated and challenges were discussed with mentors. The day ended with a public pitch event and awarding of cash prizes to two peer- and audience-selected companies. The winners strengthened their business and funding plans, and we gained insights into consumer behavior in West Africa, innovative distribution models, and unique ingredients and technologies for nutritious snacks.

Sharing our knowledge with small and growing food manufacturers

For the past three years, our employees have been volunteering their time and talents to small and growing food manufacturers throughout Africa as part of our collaboration with Partners in Food Solutions (PFS). PFS is a great organization that empowers employees from large companies like Hershey and General Mills (amongst others) to share expertise and technical support to promising companies throughout Africa – many of whom are working to improve food security and nutrition. Our ultimate goal is to help these businesses grow and thrive by sharing business expertise on quality, planning, engineering and product development. PFS volunteers are also gaining leadership skills, enhancing their entrepreneurial and problem-solving skills while building a more meaningful connection to their work. We are excited that one of our women-owned PFS “client” businesses in Ivory Coast will soon be a supplier to The Hershey Company.

Partnering with Students to Explore New Business and Financial Models

Our social innovation efforts are not limited to emerging markets. Here in Pennsylvania, we are proud to announce a new partnership with the Mack Institute for Innovation Management at Wharton.  In collaboration with a fantastic group of graduate students, we are digging into what’s most important to consumers when it comes to purpose-driven brands. While we know consumers care about ingredients and sustainability, we want to push the envelope when it comes to business and financial models that give back. Stay tuned for more as we learn alongside our colleagues at Wharton.

So, 160 years after the birth of Milton Hershey, inspired by how he brought innovation to candy, manufacturing and even giving back to communities, we are challenged and inspired to shape purpose-driven innovation for the next 160 years.

Learn more about Milton Hershey’s legacy and the impact of the brand he brought to life for consumers and the town of Hershey, Pa.

Read how employees of large companies are assisting entrepreneurs across Africa. Social Innovation is a component of our Nourishing Minds platform; read more about how we’re nourishing 1 million minds by 2020.