Chocolate started out as a humble drink, sold by Quaker businesses as an alternative to the alcohol destroying so many lives. The 19th century saw their quest to improve their products and fend off bankruptcy. Little did they know quite how successful this weird bean would become, and the mark they’d leave on the world.
Honestly, I learned so much about British business history from this book, not just about chocolate. The Quakers shaped so much in their short time running some of the most successful firms of the 19th century; Barclays and Lever have humble Quaker roots as well as all the chocolate companies. They were run ethically, with profits being reinvested into their employees or ploughed into charitable causes. Hoarding all your money was seen as sinful.
The book isn’t just about Cadbury, despite being written by a family member. There is probably more of a personal slant and family anecdotes to the sections about them but it covers the rise and fall (or swallowing up by other companies) of Rowntrees, Fry’s of Bristol, Mars, Hershey, Nestle and Lindt. I loved the photos included of all the founders and the early days of chocolate production are just as fascinating as the social history.
The Cadburys also played a part in the social reform of the UK. George bought liberal papers he feared would fall into Tory hands. He was even pragmatic when it came to keeping the gambling news and adverts; removing them would create a high-minded paper that few would read. It was better to educate the masses than be pious.
The creation and evolution of the model village at Bournville is also covered. It seemed like a huge success and it is amazing that it hasn’t really been repeated outside of the chocolate trade (with its anti-capitalism roots). The Cadbury’s were slightly ashamed of their great wealth, it wasn’t very Quaker after all, so they planned to give it away; make the profits benefit the workers. The poor had the chance to rise out of the city slums rather than line the coffers of their employers,
I did think some points were often repeated. I wonder if this is the assumption that people won’t read these sort of books in one go, or even in the right order. It is non-fiction after all, and most of us will know the current states of these chocolate makers.
As I read the final chapters, I began to fume. All my British readers will know of the uproar when Cadbury was sold to Kraft. What I didn’t realise at the time was that no one at Cadbury’s wanted to sell, not even the man at the top. It was a hostile takeover that left a very bad feeling behind. It’s horrifying how little control a successful company has once it’s gone public. The shareholders get their way, and the majority vote comes from short term investors who care only for profit and not the long term success of the company. Poor Cadbury.
And now of course Kraft (or their subsidiary Mondelez, perhaps they are trying to distance themselves) have gone and ruined the Cadbury’s Crème Egg. All because some people wanted to make a quick buck. I have been left with a greater respect for Hershey. I may not like their chocolate, but they held the same values as the British companies and they have managed to fend off the giant conglomerates. If Cadbury and Hershey had merged (Hershey couldn’t afford it at the time of the takeover), I imagine both companies would have kept on as usual.
Overall, a fascinating slice of history we hear little about.
Book Source: Gift from Hanna @ Booking in Heels
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