Book review by Roger Sawkins, Queensland Regional MeetingFront cover

Chocolate Wars: from Cadbury to Kraft:  200 years of sweet success and bitter rivalry by Deborah Cadbury Harper (Collins 2010 RRP$35)

Cadbury’s Milk Tray, Rowntree’s  Black Magic, Kit Kat, Dairy  Box, Aero, Smarties, Mars Bars,  Milky Way, Maltesers, Bournville Chocolate  Creams. If by now you are drooling and  desperate for a taste of some of them, this  book will at least tell you how they came  about.

Deborah Cadbury’s history of  chocolate making in her family starts  with the Quaker families of Cadbury,  Rowntree, and Fry in the eighteenth  Century. She tells of the struggles to find  a good recipe, first for drinking chocolate  and then the hard eating chocolate that  we can’t resist. In the process she also  describes the Quaker ethical principles  that guided the early chocolate makers.  The book covers the concerns for the  poor and underprivileged, worries about  the accumulation of vast wealth and how  it should be used, and the general ethics  of being in business. Founder George  Cadbury not only built his modern factory  outside Birmingham, but also Bournville  model village for the staff which now has  6,000 houses. He later gave his own house  as the main building for what is now  Woodbrooke College.

But all that came after a long and  competitive struggle to find the best  recipes for producing chocolate. The  earliest problem was the fat in the  chocolate beans, which meant they were  mixed with potato flour, treacle, sago or  even lichen (‘Iceland moss cocoa’). Some  manufacturers added brick dust, vermilion  or red lead for colouring. Needless to say,  the results were not very popular! Finding  the right process for treating the chocolate  beans was a long and difficult process and  sparked great rivalry.

It is not always a rosy picture. When  George Cadbury finally managed to  develop a ‘pure’ chocolate drink in the  1860s he raised Quaker eyebrows by  advertising it! Full-page adverts in  newspapers and posters in shops and on  the sides of the horse-drawn buses; to  some Quakers it seemed ‘slightly shabby  and unworthy’.

But worse was to come. Joseph  Rowntree in the 1870’s rented an office  near his rivals and then advertised for  staff. He interviewed applicants and even  took them to his factory so that he could  find out how they were producing their  chocolate. An early example of industrial  espionage, and from a Quaker!

Another ethical issue which exercised  the minds of the Quaker chocolate  families in the early twentieth century was  slavery. They discovered that Portuguese- administered Angola, which was supplying  them with a small quantity of high  quality chocolate, was using slaves. After  difficult discussions between themselves  they decided they should continue to be  involved so that they could put pressure  on the Portuguese government. Not only  was that unsuccessful, but it got them into  further trouble. One of the daily papers  exposed their involvement and accused  them of getting wealthy on the backs of  slaves.

Again their ethical principles were  challenged, and they eventually decided to  sue the paper for defamation. They won,  but you’ll have to read the book to find out  the rather unsatisfactory outcome.

Deborah’s well-written book brings  the story up to date with the takeovers by  Schweppes and Kraft and the demise of  Quaker involvement — sad, but maybe  inevitable in our ‘free enterprise’ world.  It is probably disconcerting for many  Quakers that the word ‘wars’ appears in  the title of a book about part of our history.  And to my mind it is a rather stronger  word than the book justifies. However,  Deborah Cadbury’s detailed explanations  of Quaker history and ethics is admirable  and a great read.

One final curiosity. In the US, the book’s  subtitle is The 150-Year Rivalry Between  the World’s Greatest Chocolate Makers.  Perhaps the 50 years before non-Quaker  Hershey became involved just don’t count  over there!

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