A new book brings to life the 150-year battle between Britain's Cadbury and its Swiss and American competitors for sweet supremacy.
When Kraft Foods succeeded in its hostile takeover of Cadbury in 2010, there was an outcry among those who felt a uniquely British company had succumbed to the cold, unyielding force of globalization. It seemed to be the end of an era. But as Deborah Cadbury explains in Chocolate Wars, her fascinating tale of the world's largest chocolate makers, this was just the latest in the waves of change that have swept over the industry in the last two centuries.
The subject is a particularly good fit for Cadbury, who is not only an award-winning author and television producer specializing in science and history, but a scion (though not a direct descendent) of the family that founded the chocolate empire.
The British chocolate industry was unusual from the very beginning. Founded and dominated by Quaker idealists who were shut out of many other business pursuits, the country's three largest producers--Cadbury, Fry and Rowntree--pursued a social agenda as well as a business one.
"For the Quaker capitalists of the 19th century, the idea that wealth creation was for personal gain only would have been offensive," Cadbury writes. "Wealth creation was for the benefit of the workers, the local community and society at large as well as the entrepreneurs themselves." And though these early capitalists looked askance at excessive debt and even advertising, their approach might ring true to those in business today who do their best to keep in mind the needs of all stakeholders, not just shareholders.
The fierce competition and breakneck pace of change during the industry's early years would also be familiar to today's entrepreneurs. Cadbury chronicles the early technical innovations that vastly expanded the market for chocolate products, sparking a race among British, Swiss and Dutch chocolate makers to produce the highest-quality product at the lowest price. Growth came not only through mechanization, but by consolidation, a strategy that the Swiss company Nestle established early in its history and continues today. Later, American entrepreneurs such as Milton S. Hershey and Forrest Mars entered the fray, and the pace of change accelerated.
From the Industrial Revolution to mass production and distribution to globalization, Cadbury chronicles the history of modern capitalism through a particularly compelling lens that makes for a page-turning--if not always sweet--story.
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