Chocolate is an $83 billion industry dominated by a few very large chocolate manufacturers. Though perhaps not as magical as Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, four of the largest chocolate producers in the world offer fun tours (often with free samples) so that you can get a behind-the-scenes look at how your favorite chocolates are made at Mars, Nestle, Cadbury and Hershey.
Note: Ferrero, maker of Ferrero Rocher chocolates and Nutella, is the world's third largest chocolate producer but the notoriously secretive company does not offer factory tours to the public.
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Mars: The Ethel M Factory Tour, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
The Mars Company is the world's largest producer of chocolate and sells some of America's favorite chocolates including M&Ms, Snickers bars, Dove, and Twix. In 1941, Forrest Mars, Sr., invented M&Ms after seeing soldiers during World War II eating chocolate covered with a candy coating to prevent the chocolate from melting.
He opened the Ethel M Factory Tour outside Las Vegas in 1981 to honor his mother's memory and her chocolate recipes. The factory tour is best seen during the weekday when the factory is in operation and all guests receive one free piece of chocolate. Reviews about the factory tour are mixed depending on whether you are able to see the chocolate in production, but the adjacent Botanical Cactus Garden is always a favorite.
The factory is open Monday to Thursday, 8:30 to 4:30. Store and Cactus Garden are open Monday to Sunday, 8 am to 8 pm. Tickets are free. Always check their website for most updated closings and schedules.
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Nestle: Maison Cailler Chocolate, Broc, Switzerland
Nestle, a Swiss brand, has produced chocolate since the 1920s, and, today, produces such popular treats like Butterfinger bars, KitKat, Crunch bars, and the entire Wonka line. In 1929, Nestle purchased the Cailler chocolate company, which was the first Swiss company to produce chocolate.
At Maison Cailler, in Broc, Switzerland, you can spend an hour walking through exhibits explaining the entire history of chocolate production from Aztec origins to Swiss processing, ultimately ending in a tasting room, where you are taught how to use your senses to taste chocolate and encouraged to eat as much chocolate as you want! This is a unique tour for a very reasonable price and, if you're in this area in Switzerland, it's well worth a spot.
Hours vary depending on the season. Check out the hours on their website. For 12 CHF (around $12 USD), this is a great and fun tour for chocolate lovers, especially since it includes all-you-can-eat chocolate.
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Cadbury: Cadbury World, Birmingham, UK
Cadbury, the chocolate maker of the Creme Egg, Dairy Milk bars, and Turkish Delight, offers up a wonderful tour near its Bournville, UK, manufacturing village. The Birmingham Cadbury World is a one-way self-guided tour which teaches visitors about the origins of chocolate and the Cadbury company through animatronics, video presentations and computer simulations, static sets, and staff demonstrations. This popular tour is a good day trip and should take about three to four hours.
Hours vary depending on the season. Check their website for most updated times and schedules. Tickets cost around 17 pounds (about $22 USD) for adults and it is best to pre-book your tickets and reserve a time slot to visit the location.
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Hershey: Hershey's Chocolate World
Hershey, Pennsylvania, dubbed the "sweetest place on Earth" is home to Hershey Chocolate Factory. Hershey has created a huge Hersheypark, based around chocolate, with roller coasters and water rides. Hershey's Chocolate World is a free attraction located outside Hersheypark and includes a ride that takes visitors through a recreated factory that shows the production from bean to bar, a Create Your Own Chocolate Bar activity, a tasting course, and a 4D movie. This is a fun experience for children of all ages, especially if paired with an outing at Hersheypark.
Hours vary depending on the season. The factory tour is free but the other attractions range from $10 to $15.