“You have activated the My M&M’s colour mood analyser. We will now determine your colour mood,” the female voice sounds from somewhere in the ceiling.
It all feels a bit 1984 – a sugar-coated Thought Police initiative – but no, this rather bizarre assessment is related to something else sugar-coated.
A chap, clad in biker leathers, with shaved head and thundering beard, is standing in the marked spot necessary to have your “colour mood” determined. Tats, piercings and all, he waits.
Blue. He’s blue, the voice says. The man, must be pushing 50, turns to his mate and smiles because Blue is the “cool” M&M – and incidentally, almond.
“Thank you and have a colourful day.”
The archetypal tough guy ambles off to explore another corner of the four-floored M&M’s World in the corner of Leicester Square. The attraction, big and bold, just down from China Town and neighbour to one of the world’s most famous cinema venues, is to many a bit of enigma. Why does it exist? Who goes there? What even is it? Its façade and entrance, to someone inwardly curious about M&M’s World, is a little intimidating for a casual walk-in, which is why I have taken it upon myself to explore its roots, means and meaning for the good of travel journalism.
Opened in 2011, M&M’s World London is one of five around the world – in addition to Las Vegas, Orlando, New York and Shanghai – hosting the extra-confectionary activities of the hard-shelled chocolate sweet, but the first outside the US. Last year, some 5.3 million people walked through its doors – which, by the way, are open until midnight six days a week. For comparison, the Natural History Museum, boasting some of the world’s most remarkable life and earth science displays, welcomes around the same number of visitors a year.
But does the Natural History Museum smell like chocolate? Because the first thing that hits visitors to M&M World’s 35,000 square foot establishment – making it the largest chocolate store in the world – is its odour. I’m not sure whether it’s deliberate or not, but the place stinks to the high heavens of a kind of musky, nutty chocolate; of the essence of M&M’s. Spend more than five minutes inside, and by the time you leave you’ll be startled by how unlike chocolate Leicester Square smells.
Next are the colours, central to the draw of the humble M&M, broadly speaking an American Smartie. The sweets come in myriad hues, from red and green to teal and aqua, and here are funnelled into receptacles of every size and shape to make a purchase appealing to the broadest spectrum of shoppers: would you rather have a giant bottle filled with M&Ms or a plastic teddy bear? You don’t have to choose. With Valentine’s Day on the horizon, why not spoil your significant other with a plastic ornament spelling out the word LOVE with pink, red and white M&M’s. Who said romance was dead?
But it’s the not-so imaginative characters, Red, Blue, Green, Yellow, Orange and Brown, who are the real stars of the colour show. Giant models of each are dotted about the store – Blue, the cool one, is driving a big red London bus as you enter the store, though he looks intoxicated. Downstairs, Orange, the neurotic one, is playing in goal in a football match, though he looks out of position and out of his depth. Elsewhere in the store, Yellow, Red, Green and Blue are posing on a zebra crossing à la The Beatles, though I have more connection to the band than M&M’s do.
Hardly the Beefeaters at the Tower or the Dulux dog, these are the not particularly loveable incarnations of the chocolate sweet – and they’re everywhere.
Opinions on Red, Blue and Green aside, I immerse myself in the store – ogle the “biggest wall of candy in the world”, weigh up personalising my M&M’s (“I love you, Best friends, Happy retirement – they’re what most people get,” the woman behind the counter tells me), and mull over the M&M Periodic Table (wait, is this the Natural History Museum after all?). I even have my photo taken in giant, white M&M-style shoes, hashtag sweetselfie. But the real experience to be had in this World is to shop.
I have rarely seen more merchandise – and I’ve been to Disney World. There is very little you cannot buy with M&M branding: egg cups, mugs, plates, shirts, bowls, shot glasses, bracelets, baby-grows, pants, purses, pillows. You name it, it’s plastered with a primary colour and a confectionary logo. One can’t help but reflect on how many people they have ever seen wearing an M&M’s t-shirt… Nope, me neither.
But they all exist and they all come with a price. Take the sweets that tumble through the silos of the largest candy wall in the world at £1.99 per 100g (a traditional corner shop packet costs £1.33 per 100g, yet there is not one in sight), or the “big chocolate lentil” at £15.95, or the aforementioned LOVE ornament, a snip, at the same price. A handful of complimentary M&Ms being given out around the store – “go and personalise them” – is scant relief if you decide to take anything to the till.
On my way from “London’s only M&M’s World Mix Lab” (no disputing that) on the basement floor I make my way towards the exit, stopping a number of supposed M&M enthusiasts as to how they ended up in the theme store today. From a family from Spain whose children (seven and 10) had it on their London hit-list to a couple down from Leeds for the weekend killing time in Leicester Square before the theatre, all seemed to find the experience a curious one, but positive nonetheless.
I pass the colour mood analyser and a lad, about 16, is nervously awaiting his fate in front of his friends. “Pink,” the voice says, and his mates all laugh. No wonder, Pink isn’t even an M&M.