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!