Historian and Cadbury relative Deborah Cadbury chronicles the struggle for global chocolate supremacy, a battle which pitted unbridled capitalism against pious Quaker idealism.
(Page 2 of 2)
The brothers made every effort to treat their employees as equals, not as subordinates. The factory and its happy, healthy workforce thrived. And on Dec. 14,1900, “ever mindful of the corrosive effects that wealth could have on his soul,” George Cadbury gave away nearly all of his wealth to create the Bournville Village Trust, for “the amelioration of the conditions of the working class and labouring population.”Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
A quarter century later American milk chocolate magnate Milton Hershey would create his own eponymous utopian village in rural Pennsylvania, donating much of his present and future earnings to founding a school for orphans and needy children, still operating today. Could competitive commerce and Christian ideals coexist? For a while they did, beautifully.
Meanwhile, as Cadbury worked to perfect its own products, Swiss chocolatiers were miles ahead, and much in demand, even on Cadbury’s home turf. Their milk chocolate was smooth and delectable, clearly superior. What was their secret? Their competition was dying to know, and far less scrupulous firms than the Cadburys were doing everything above and below the line to find out. Among them, an ambitious Milton Hershey, anxious for a chocolate breakthrough, took a long tour of English and European chocolatemakers around the turn of the century, trolling for secrets. With a few new ideas packed in his luggage, he returned to America to launch his own sweet dream.
The 20th century brought great challenges to England’s Quaker chocolate triumvirate. Strategic mergers of competitors and Hershey’s meteoric rise in the US closed off lucrative markets, and cynical attacks on their snow-white image and “fairyland” business practices from a skeptical British press compelled the Cadburys to buy their own newspaper to correct misinformation and provide another point of view. They beat back accusations of profiting from African slave labor at the turn of the 20th century, and World War I tested their Quaker resolve as pacifists, with some members of the family choosing to take up arms against the Germans while others distinguished themselves in the ambulance corps.
Recently, the American food behemoth Kraft acquired the very English Cadbury company in a strong-armed takeover, sending shockwaves throughout the British Isles and its nervous workforce. It’s unclear what effect that will have on the still-operating Bournville factory. Clearly the great social experiment is over at Cadbury, a unique family-run operation for most of its 176 years in the chocolate business.
Cadbury’s book, like her namesake’s famous sampler, is full of surprises and delights. There are a few villains in her story, but many heroes, whose fortitude and good works are an inspiration. Most of the sweet confections these chocolate pioneers worked so hard to bring to life are still favorites today – Cadbury’s Dairy Milk bar, Nestlés hot cocoa, Hershey’s Kisses, the Snickers candy bar – were all perfected about 100 years ago, by the first great generation of chocolatiers. They may have been constantly at war over who could produce the best tasting chocolate, but that’s a war we all win, every day.
John Kehe is the Monitor’s design director.