Chocolate Wars: The 150-Year Rivalry Between the World's Greatest Chocolate Makers
By Deborah Cadbury
Hardcover, 384 pages
List price: $27.95
As a young child, the knowledge that a branch of my family had built a chocolate factory filled me with wonder. What sort of charmed life did such a possibility offer to my relatives? Each Christmas I had an insight when the most enormous case arrived from my uncle, Michael Cadbury, containing a large supply of mouth-watering chocolates. Even more memorable was the trip I made in the early 1960s to see how the chocolate was made. Opening the door to the factory at Bournville in Birmingham, the sight that greeted me was magical.
To child’s eyes it was as though I had entered a cavernous interior that belonged to some benign, orderly and highly productive wizard who had somehow saturated the very air with a chocolate aroma. My uncle and parents raised their voices against the whirr of machinery. But I did not hear them. All I could see was chocolate. It was all around me in every stage of the process. There was melting molten chocolate bubbling in vats towering above me, vats so huge that they had ladders running up their sides. Chocolate rivers flowed on a number of swiftly moving conveyers through gaps in the wall to mysterious interiors beyond. Solid chocolate shaped in a myriad of exciting confections travelled in neat soldierly processions towards the wrapping department. Such a miracle of clockwork precision and sensual extravagance was hard to take in. Even more puzzling to my young mind: how did this chocolate feast, which brought a whole new meaning to the idea of greed, fit with religion? For even though I did not yet understand the connection, I did know that the chocolate works were in some inexplicable way, intimately connected with a little known religious movement known as the Quakers. Was all this the hand of God?
My own father had left the Quaker movement just before the Second World War. He wanted, as he put it, to ‘join the fight against Hitler’ and this was not compatible with Quaker pacifism. I was brought up in the Church of England and as a child, when joining cousins for Quaker meetings, I felt on the outside looking in on a strange, even mystical tradition. Long silences endured in bare rooms, stripped of any sign that might excite the senses, where grownups contemplated the surrounding void, was incomprehensible to young eyes. Equally incomprehensible: how did my rich, chocolate relatives acquire that admirable restraint, that air of wholesome frugality. Even family picnics had a way of turning into long and chilly route marches, raindrops trickling down your back. The wealth and austerity seemed oddly incongruous. Did the one make the other? Cheerful homilies from my father along the lines of ‘every mickle makes a muckle’ and ‘look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves’ did not appear to supply the answer. Even a five year old knew this was not the key to creating a chocolate factory.
A generation elapsed before I decided to retrace my steps up Bournville Lane. This time it was personal. I wanted to delve into the Bournville and family archives to uncover the whole story. Turning the corner in the lane in the autumn of 2007, my heart skipped a beat as I was taken back to that day when my father and uncle, both now much missed, had taken me round the factory. To my surprise, the chocolate works seemed even larger than I remembered. Imposing red brick blocks stood beside the neatly mowed lawn of the cricket pitch with Bournville village and green nestled behind. At this time, Cadburys was the largest confectioner in the world and the only independent British chocolate enterprise to survive from the 19th century. I wanted to understand the journey that took my deeply religious Quaker forebears from peddling their tins of cocoa from a pony and trap around Birmingham to this Titan like company that reached across the globe.
The story began five generations ago, when a farsighted forbear, Richard Tapper Cadbury, a draper in Birmingham early in the 19th century, sent his youngest son, John, to London to study a new tropical commodity that was attracting interest among the colonial brokers of Mincing Lane: cocoa. Was it something to eat or drink? Richard Tapper saw it pre-eminently as a nutritious non-alcoholic drink in a world that relied on gin to wash away its troubles. Never could my abstemiously inclined forebear have guessed what fortunes were entwined with the humble cocoa bean, although it seemed full of promise: a touch of the exotic.
His grandsons, George and Richard Cadbury, turned a struggling business into a chocolate empire in one generation. In the process, they took on their Quaker friends and rivals, Joseph Rowntree in York, and Francis Fry and his nephew Joseph in Bristol. The Cadbury, Fry and Rowntree dynasties were built on values that form a striking contrast with business ethics today. Their approach to the creation of wealth was governed by an entire code of practice developed over generations since the Civil War by their Quaker elders and set out at yearly meetings and in Quaker books of discipline. This 19th-century ‘Quaker capitalism’ was far removed from the excesses of the world’s recent financial crisis, in which business leaders have seen no harm in pocketing huge personal profits while their companies collapse.
For the Quaker capitalists of the 19th century, the idea that wealth creation was for personal gain only would have been offensive. Wealth creation was for the benefit of the workers, the local community, and society at large, as well as the entrepreneurs themselves. Reckless or irresponsible debt was also seen as shameful. Quaker directives ensured that no man should ‘launch into trading and worldly business beyond what they can manage honourably… so that they can keep their words with all men.’ Even advertising was dismissed as dishonest, mere ‘puffery’: the quality of the product mattered far more than the message. Men like Joseph Rowntree and George Cadbury built chocolate empires at the same time as writing groundbreaking papers on poverty, publishing authoritative studies of the Bible or campaigning for a multitude of heart-rending human rights in a world that seems straight out of Dickens. Puritanical hard work and sober austerity, with the senses in watchful restraint, were the guiding principles. Even art, literature and theatre were dismissed as too great an indulgence.
Whilst it is easy to dismiss such values as antiquated notions that governed business life at a time before Darwin’s ideas had taken root, Quaker capitalism proved extraordinary successful and its puritanical work ethic unleashed a staggering worldly wealth. In the early 19th century, around 4,000 Quaker families ran 74 Quaker British banks and over 200 Quaker companies. As they came to grips with making money, these austere men of God helped to shape the course of the industrial revolution and the commercial world today.
The chocolate factories of George and Richard Cadbury and Joseph Rowntree inspired men in America such as the ‘King of Caramel,’ Milton Hershey, who took philanthropy to a new all-American scale with the creation of the utopian town of Hershey in the cornfields of Pennsylvania. But with the growth of global trade, the rise of international rivals and the emergence of a new tough breed of entrepreneurs in the 20th century unshackled by religious conviction - men such as Frank and Forrest Mars - the chocolate wars that followed gradually eroded the values that shaped Quaker capitalism. Some Quaker firms did not survive the struggle and those that did had to lose their puritan roots. In the process, ownership of the businesses passed from private Quaker dynasties to public shareholders. Little by little the implications of the transition from Quaker capitalism to shareholder capitalism began to take shape in the form of huge confectionery conglomerates that straddle the corporate world today. The story of four generations of Cadbury brothers and their rivals highlights different phases of this process. The Cadbury chocolate business came of age during the expansion of the British Empire in the Victorian era. It peaked a century later during the post Cold War era as the world’s largest confectionery company – only to be consumed in turn by global forces in the new millennium.
The end for an independent Cadbury began with an innocuous voice mail message. In late August 2009 Irene Rosenfeld, chairman of America’s largest food company, Kraft Foods, requested a meeting with the Cadbury chairman, Roger Carr. Kraft Foods made a £10.2 billion bid for the British chocolate company. The bid turned hostile. Five months later, after a long and bitter siege played out in the glare of the media, Kraft won over Cadbury’s shareholders. Britain’s last big chocolate enterprise fell to the American giant after 186 years of independence in one of the largest acquisitions in British corporate history.
Today the world’s two largest giant food companies – the Swiss firm, Nestle and America’s Kraft – circle the globe, feeding humanity’s sweet tooth. The Americans spend £8 billion on chocolate; the British £3.5 billion and more than one in four in America and Britain are obese. Yet these two behemoths are locked in a race to maintain market share in the developed world, while also selling their western confections and other processed foods to emerging markets in the developing world. Somewhere along the way the 400-year-old English Puritanical ideal of self-denial and the Quaker vision of creating wholesome nourishment for a hungry and impoverished workforce have disappeared. Also vanished are a myriad of independent chocolate confectionery firms. In Britain alone: Mackintosh of Halifax and Rowntree of York are now owned by Nestlé, while Terry of York, Fry of Bristol and Cadbury have become a division of Kraft.
My search was to explore how this happened. I wanted to unearth the true story of the original Quaker chocolate pioneers and the religious values that shaped their business decisions, and see how these values differed from today.
Excerpted from Chocolate Wars: The 150-Year Rivalry Between the World’s Greatest Chocolate Makers by Deborah Cadbury. Excerpted by arrangement with PublicAffairs, a member of The Perseus Books Group. Copyright 2010.