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A Separate Piece of Chocolate

In a war between Cadbury and Hershey’s, I’d fight for both sides – if they paid in chocolate, that is. In my imaginary war, the worst that could happen would be death by chocolate. But if things went well, we could look forward to a chocolate treat-y instead.

The real chocolate wars involving Cadbury, Hershey’s, Nestlé and Mars were never so sweet. Waged over the course of a century and a half, they pitted chocolatiers from England, Switzerland and the United States, not just for market share, but for survival. The annals of those wars are recounted in richly satisfying detail by historian Deborah Cadbury, a descendent of one of the great chocolate houses. “Chocolate Wars” is as much family history as it is the chronicle of chocolate’s rise from an exotic though scarcely popular drink to the Valentine staple and sometimes addictive substance (and you know who you are, chocoholics) that it has since become. Americans, in case you’re wondering, spend approximately $12 billion each year on chocolate. My household is responsible for at least half of that.

The book might also be considered an obituary for a particular way of doing business that is almost (maybe even completely) lost today. The founders of Cadbury, two brothers, were devout Quakers. That meant that certain ways of doing business – such as sacrificing the community for the sake of your individual profit – were completely off the table. “For the Quaker capitalists of the nineteenth century, the idea that wealth creation was for personal gain only would have been offensive,” writes Cadbury. “Wealth creation was for the benefit of the workers, the local community and society at large, as well as the entrepreneurs themselves.” Before you start crying “socialist,” peel the wrapper off of your Kit Kat Bar and give me a break. Quaker capitalists had to answer to more than just shareholders. There was the big guy upstairs (and I don’t mean the CEO), as well as all the members of the community. That meant that you either succeeded, closed your business (after paying off your debts) or risked “the censure of the Quaker movement or, worse … “were disowned and “treated as outcasts within their circle.” Ouch.

The Cadburys had no qualms about making money. Neither did the Quaker community. Their main goal, however, was to create “wholesome nourishment for a hungry and impoverished work force.” Before chocolate became today’s luxuriant gourmet fixation, its potential as a dietary staple was a driving force for many companies. Success depended, in part, on turning a profit.

Author Cadbury emphasizes the central theme of her book by contrasting the old Cadbury with the new. In a hostile takeover in 2010, U.S.-based Kraft Foods acquired the British company Cadbury. The company had made efforts throughout its history to retain jobs, whereas “Kraft confirmed the closure of the famous Cadbury factory at Somerdale,” just a week after the takeover. By some estimates, Kraft sacked “some 60,000 workers to help pay for” many of its other takeover deals (Kraft denies this). Cadbury quotes one British official as saying, “Kraft has tossed away promises on jobs like a torn-up sweet wrapper.”

“Chocolate Wars” has a full cast of characters. Other combatants include the many independent and multi-national chocolate companies in existence since the first chocolate arrived in the Old World. Savory tidbits about the cultivation and production of chocolate and chocolate confections, the chocolate trade, as well as national, familial, and individual sagas round out the pleasure of this volume. The best things in life are chocolate! Reading about chocolate might also be high on the list. Wrap up this book for your Valentine sweetie along with a big box of chocolates (an idea invented by the Cadburys by the way) for a treat that satisfies in multiple ways. FBN

 

 

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