I have never been inside M+M World London. Like any good Londoner I try to avoid Leicester Square, the place it calls home, almost entirely. Even Oxford Circus, which holds a special kind of terror on a Saturday afternoon, has more appeal.
Yet I have often wondered what on earth is the appeal of M+M World? I see it when walking down Regent Street or passing Piccadilly Circus on my way to Hatchards. Tourists on the tube all clutch their bright yellow M+M bags, a clear signifier of not being from London if there ever was one. It seems to exert some kind of unique public fascination.
Here is the question: why, among all the wonders that London offers, do people make a point of visiting a giant yellow store for chocolate that is readily available in shops all over the world? It’s not like they have a roller coaster in there - or do they? In the spirit of openness, it is time to suppress my prejudice and see what all the fuss is about.
The first thing that hits me when entering the four floor, bright yellow store is the overwhelming smell of chocolate. Sort of. It’s not like walking into any other artisan chocolate shop, which smells of rich, chocolatey goodness. This is a foggy sensation and mixed with another smell that can only be described as definitely-artificial-colours-and-flavourings.
Moreover, the store is teeming with people. I had expected plenty of families. That would make sense. But children are surprisingly few and far between. Instead it is adults who take up most of the room. Browsing the endless M+M products and posing for photos with the giant statues.
The M+M products really are boundless in their variety. Coin purses, cookie mix, earphones, golf balls, socks and shoelaces, towels, footballs, phone cases, and milkshakes which - worryingly - need no refrigerating. That doesn’t even cover half of it. There is clothing too, an awful lot of it. Enough that if I really wanted to, I could find something for every occasion. Yes, there are Christmas jumpers, too.
The most exciting thing in the store are definitely the tubes of M+Ms that line the wall. (I was right, they have no roller coaster.) The M+Ms come in every colour of the rainbow. Would I like them exclusively in grey? Or perhaps maroon with a few aqua peanut-covered M+Ms poured in too?
M+M World London proudly claims to be the world’s largest candy store. An odd choice of words for a country which likes to call them sweets. But looking at the masses of M+Ms lining the wall it is hard not to feel a slight Willy Wonkian thrill and let just a little of my scepticism fall away.
Jenny, a Londoner who has come to the store with her sister Peggy, is happy to tell me about its appeal. Peggy is visiting from Germany and they are here to purchase souvenirs and Christmas presents. Peggy has a friend who loves M+Ms, so she thought this would be a good place to find something. “And it’s just a great, fun place to come,” Jenny adds.
There are a few interactive experiences which lend themselves to the word fun. There is a line that has formed for a yellow circle in front of a screen. This is a scanner which tells you which colour M+M is right for you. As far as I am aware, unlike skittles which are also sold here, or smarties which are not, M+Ms do not change flavour according to their colour. But it is a clever marketing strategy, I suppose.
You can also have personalised messages printed on to M+Ms. This strikes me as a little more interesting. They have suggestions of course. ‘I love you,’ and ‘hi,’ being amongst the least original. ‘Will you marry me?’ Is another of the recommended options. This forces me to briefly consider how I would react to a marriage proposal made with M+Ms. I am surprised to find that this doesn’t sound too bad after all. I love chocolate…
And with that thought, my cynical wall crumbles. Suddenly I see M+M World London as a happy, fun, harmless place. Of course, people flock here, it makes perfect sense. It’s joyous and innocent! A wonderful return to childhood! What is it they say about ‘kids in a candy store?’
This epiphany lasts all of five minutes, until at the counter I pay £1.99 for 100 grams of M+Ms, something which would be significantly cheaper at my local supermarket. This isn’t the moment that wakes me from my reverie, though. It is the man at the counter next to me: as he is told that his purchases come to £219.70, the cashier still attempts to upsell him an M+M towel for £4.
Holding a bag of M+Ms, which I know will not last until the end of the day, I leave the vastness of this crowded, dazzling store. Thinking what I already knew - Smarties are better.