Monsen Engineering & M&M Candies: A SWEET History

Imagine a world without M&Ms. No plain, no peanut, no instant gratification from the vending maching when that mid-afternoon chocolate craving hits. Frightening, isn't it?

This was almost the case if it hadn't been for an innovative mechanical contractor from Fairfield, NJ.

Monsen Engineering Co. (Contracting Business' Commercial Contractor of the Year, 1990) was founded as Monsen Refrigeration Service in 1948 by Ingvar Monsen. Since that time, the company has celebrated more than 55 years in business and has grown to a 125-person mechanical contractor offering service, engineering, construction, building automation, validation, and on-site staffing.

According to Dick Monsen, chairman, there was one customer in the early days of his father's business that was truly pivotal for the growth of the company: M&M Candy Co. in Newark, NJ.

In the early 1950s, M&M Candy Co. had begun an aggressive advertising campaign marketing M&Ms to the general public. Prior to that time, these candies had been enjoyed primarily by soldiers serving in World War II. The "melt in your mouth, not your hands" feature made them a very portable and popular ration. However, once consumers discovered them, the demand was overwhelming.

"My father was contacted by M&M Candy Co. to service its refrigeration and air conditioning equipment, which was experiencing frequent breakdowns," says Monsen.

He diagnosed that the equipment wasn't achieving the design temperatures. This lead to excessive down time because of refrigerant losses, which then caused delays in production. With the company's advertising efforts, orders for the candy had increased to 600,000 lbs./wk. However, the manufacturing facility could only produce 200,000 lbs./wk. because of the breakdowns.

Fortunately, Ingvar Monsen was there to save the day. "My father was in the right place at the right time," says Monsen. "Once he got the maintenance and repair under control, my father hired an engineer and installed additional equipment that the facility desperately needed."

As a result of Monsen's efforts, M&M was not only able to meet the demand of 600,000 lbs per week but to increase it to 1,000,000 lbs./wk.

According to Monsen, it was a race to keep up with M&M's production needs. Monsen Refrigeration kept adding more cooling equipment -- which included belt-driven, open drive compressors and evaporative condensers with direct expansion heat exchangers -- wherever they could find space.

To solidify the chocolate, there were cooling tunnels approximately 10 ft. wide by 100 ft. long, cooled by direct expansion refrigeration circulating systems with deep refrigeration coils.

"When there was no longer any space in the building, we installed additional units on the roof, and hung ductwork outside of the building," he says. "In fact, when the company began making the peanut M&Ms, they took an old railroad loading dock and turned it into manufacturing and processing space."

In addition, the demand for Monsen 's services was so great that "my father sometimes worked 80 to 90 hours a week at the plant. He would get a call at 2 or 3 in the morning, and then we wouldn't see him for a few days," he adds.

To help out the company, Dick Monsen worked with his father during the summer months.

"During the summer, M&M Candy Co. would shut down for two weeks for plant maintenance. One of my jobs was to clean the inside of the evaporative condensers, which were full of rust and scale, and paint them with tar," he says. "It was so bad I had to leave my clothes at work because they were so dirty. This was my father's incentive plan so I would study hard and stay in college!"

Monsen Refrigeration continued working with M&M Candy Co until around 1958, when the company's production finally outgrew its Newark facility. Although the company moved 50 miles away, the owner didn't want to give up Monsen. In fact, he offered to purchase Monsen Refrigeration Service and make Ingvar a permanent employee at M&M. As flattered as he was, Ingvar declined, opting to continue growing his business.

Throughout the last few decades, Monsen has been called occasionally to help out with some of M&Ms' controls and refrigeration needs.

"My father related once how a former president of M&M Candy Co. confided that Monsen Refrigeration Service had saved the company from bankruptcy."

For that service, chocolate lovers everywhere owe a debt of gratitude to Monsen Engineering.

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