Apr 172011

Chocolate Wars: The 150-Year Rivalry Between the World’s Greatest Chocolate Makers by Deborah Cadbury 

Straight up, this is a wonderful book and you will learn more than you can possibly anticipate. If you miss this book, you will be missing a feast of history, culture, business acumen, ethics and, of course, chocolate. This book riveted me I picked it up on Audible.com and for two weeks, I couldn’t commute far enough to work. Read by Deborah Cadbury herself, I savored her storytelling abilities and her lovely English accent. I felt wrapped in rich milk chocolate the whole time.

A niece of of the Cadbury Chocolate family, she grew up outside the family company. As an adult, she decided to learn more of the history. She gained access to the company archives and managers and pieced together this wonderful chronicle of chocolate. Not only does she tell Cadbury’s history, but she includes all the other major chocolatiers: Fry, Nestle’, Hershey and Mars. I learned so much about chocolate, I feel like an expert whenever I walk into the store. I know the origin of the Mars bar (nougat wrapped in chocolate because Mars couldn’t afford enough chocolate for a solid bar) and how the company who later became part of Nestle’ was the first to figure out how to incorporate milk into chocolate without it spoiling. Did you know Snickers was named after the family horse? The trivia about the emergence of chocolate as one of the world’s favorite snacks is reason enough to read the book.

However, the real value to Ms. Cadbury’s work is the business story. The Cadbury and Fry families were Quakers. Hershey was a Mennonite. Their religious background firmly guided their companies. The Cadbury’s firmly believed business was not for personal profit, but the betterment of all. The Cadbury brothers worked tirelessly for their employees, teaching reading on Sundays and providing novel ideas as outings, ice skating in the winter and morning prayers. The girls in the packing room were treated especially well, including escorts home from the factory each evening for safety.

As the business grew successful, the Cadburys built their dream – Bournville. Located just South of Birmingham, England, Bournville was more than just a revolutionary factory (windows, fresh air, modern conveniences). It was a city built on the  idea that employees will be more productive if they are given the chance. The Cadburys built houses on small plots large enough for a garden and sold them to the employees at cost. They built parks, recreational halls and everything necessary. In turn, the employees made the Cadbury name the largest in chocolate. Hershey did much the same in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

As Ms. Cadbury was finishing the book, the Kraft corporation initiated their hostile takeover of the Cadbury company. The Cadburys and most of England were horrified to think their chocolate company would become part of the large food conglomerate, just so Kraft could gain access to international markets. It flew in the face of the Quaker values. Ironically, the reason Cadbury became a publicly traded company was so the Fry family members could gain access to the value of their stock after Cadbury acquired the rival company. They had bought Fry’s to keep Nestle’ from buying it, to keep the company English. Cadbury certainly didn’t need nor want to become a publicly held company. They knew it would lead to their downfall.

Shortly after the purchase, the Kraft CEO publicly stated she hoped that Kraft could learn from the rich tradition and ethics of Cadbury. It is obvious this rang as hollow platitudes to Ms. Cadbury (and many others). She dedicated the book to the education of Kraft and added the last chapter as a lecture on ethics,  Cadbury-style. This chapter should be required reading for all business leaders and students. It is a marvelous dissertation on how companies ought to comport themselves. It speaks of the responsibility the company has to not only the stockholders, but the employees, vendors, communities and customers they serve. She takes the hedge funds, short term investors and other quick profit minded stockholders to task for selling the future for a buck today. She closes with her hope that Kraft will actually read and understand the lesson, but her voice betrays her credulity. I agree with her. In following the press on this merger today, it is obvious Kraft hasn’t learned anything, if they read it at all.

I have to issue a warning about this book, however. You WILL begin to crave chocolate as you read it. I began to seek out Cadbury Dairy Milk bars. I craved hot chocolate all the time. I ate so much chocolate in the two weeks of listening to this book, I gained five pounds. And it was worth it! It has taken me another month to break the cravings. Truly, chocolate is the food of the gods, as the Aztecs called it. I thank Ms. Cadbury for helping me understand it so much better.