Chocolate Wars: The 150-Year Rivalry Between The World’s Greatest Chocolate Makers by Deborah Cadbury (PublicAffairs, 2010). Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.
This is a rich and delicious expose about the chocolate industry, which includes a number of insights an unexpected surprises. Most people do not realize that the first large chocolate companies in the world, were started in 19th century England by three religious families – the Frys, Rowntrees and Cadburys. Cadbury is the most well-known of the three and the author is a descendent. Richard Tapper Cadbury’s sons created a cocoa company that rivaled that of their European competition of Lindt and Nestle. What is most remarkable and the thread that runs throughout this story, are the passionately held ethics and concerns these Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) held for running their business, treating their employees and helping their communities.
Unlike present multi-nationals, of which Cadbury has fallen prey (to Kraft in 2009), these pioneers in the British chocolate and confectioners business believed how they did business was as, if not more important, than the business they did. They took their religious faith seriously and looked for ways to educate the illiterate, stop slavery and provide a healthy and advantages environment for all their employees, as well as others in their country. The families, boards and associations which made up the Fry, Rowntree and Cadbury companies, held themselves and those who worked for them, to strict codes that included never incurring a debt they couldn’t pay or treating anyone as less than another.
The author of Chocolate Wars has vigorously researched the families and companies histories, including those of the Cadbury’s rivals, Nestle, Lindt, Mars and Hershey; as well as more recent takeovers and insights into Kraft and other present day conglomerates. She brings a sense of humanity to everyone involved in the story and provides glimpses of each as individuals who lived with their private joys, sorrows, disappointments, hopes, tragedies and dreams. Nobody is painted with broad brushes of “all good” or “all evil”, though the issues they faced are clearly presented and laid bare before readers’ eyes.
This is not a simple genealogical story about the author’s family or a dry history of the chocolate industry in Europe and America and its globalization. It is an intricate, complex and meaningful exploration of how difficult it is to enact one’s personal ethics, beliefs and morals into business and the greater society as a whole. Ms. Cadbury is essentially asking us to take a look at how we conduct ourselves and whether our actions match our rhetoric and beliefs. Though it is extremely difficult, there are some who were indeed able to do both and they did so for almost two centuries.
Much has changed in the last 20 years, but perhaps the same ideals and ethics held by Richard Tapper Cadbury and his sons, can still be put into practice in today’s familial, political and business institutions, in spite of or instead of, the constant drive for power, money and control. They are simple beliefs of honesty, integrity, transparency and everyone’s best interests, not just the few. Are those who work in the cocoa factories and fields and make the delicious chocolate confections we all love, treated fairly, humanely and with the same care as those who run the companies under which brands they now labor? Are we, as consumers, producers and shareholders, holding these companies accountable for providing a decent wage, health care and safe environmental conditions? By her book’s example and that of her ancestors, the author of Chocolate Wars would undoubtedly say, if we aren’t, we should be.