This book should come with a health warning …. particularly for chocoholics! It is totally impossible to read its pages charting the history of Cadbury’s from its humble beginning in urban Birmingham to the rather acrimonious takeover by Kraft in 2010 without indulging in a parallel chocolate binge. The good news is that it is so quickly read, that said chocolate binge is relatively short.
Lest there be any doubt – Cadbury’s Milk Chocolate (from the fridge – is there any other way to eat chocolate?) is my favourite British make and I believe the colour of its wrapping is the source of my passion for all things purple. No wonder then that Deborah Cadbury’s recent publication, jacketed in Cadbury’s trademark hues, rose so quickly to the top of the TBR.
While the history of Cadbury forms the delicious centre of this particular confection, it is wrapped in the complimentary tastes of Fry and Rowntree, competing British firms who also shared the Quaker work ethic. It’s impossible to come away from this read without resounding admiration for these chocolate dynasties who, while they competed against each other in producing the finest drinking chocolate, raced to produce milk chocolate that did not turn rancid and fought to gain market share, were so altruistic that they gave their profits away to found charitable trusts and villages in which their workers enjoyed the best living conditions and opportunities of the time. And this for generations.
Not that I applaud every decision made. There were some dubious – not quite so quakerish – calls made during the World Wars, compromises to ensure the survival of the company, etc but in the main I was amazed at the principled nature of the business.
However, Chocolate Wars is not confined to the British dynasties. Milton Hershey’s struggle on the other side of the Atlantic is just as fascinating and his altrusim, once his American dream became real, is inspiring. (Even if the slight sourness of Hershey’s chocolate isn’t for me.) Then comes the interloper, Forest Mars, a secular business man and a canny character. Quite how he persuaded Cadburys to supply him with chocolate to coat the Mars bar remains a mystery, but he sold 2 million in its first year of production. The rise of the Swiss giant Nestlé is charted and with it the threat of the foreign food conglomerates to the British. Fry and Rowntree succumb first … and finally Cadbury to Kraft in the hostile takeover of 2010.
There was uproar at the time which I didn’t fully understand. Having read Chocolate Wars I do now. It’s not just the threat to a great British institution. What would it mean for the ethics of the company and their committment to Fairtrade? For their charities and trusts? I think these are safe but what about one of the most famous and beloved (by me) chocolate brands in the world? It is too soon to tell. The chocolate is still wrapped in its trademark purple and so far I have been unable to detect any difference in taste. I assume the one-and-a-half-glasses-of-milk-in-every-half-pound recipe has not been tampered with. As long as that is so, I shall continue to indulge.
For one review only, star rating has been replaced by a bar rating. (It had to be done.) Hence: