Cadbury’s: an epic chocolate saga of struggle and success

February 9th, 2011 - 1:29 pm ICT by IANS  

By Madhusree Chatterjee
New Delhi, Feb 9 (IANS) Ever wondered what went on behind that sinful brown bar of Cadbury’s chocolate to make it a gastronomic legion and a cult in itself for millions of chocolate lovers in India and the world? The story of Cadbury’s chocolate is a family soap flavoured with high business drama, strict moral ethics, religion and a destiny-defying struggle, says a new book chronicling Cadbury’s “Chocolate Wars” (published by Harper Press).

The book has been penned by Deborah Cadbury, a daughter of the Cadbury family.

Tucked away in the heart of of Birmingham’s dismal foggy Bridge Street in the mid-19th century was a small Victorian novelty - a cocoa works that was approached by a dirt road. The factory was a symbol of fragrant rich living in the grimy backstreets.

One early morning in 1861, brothers George and Richard Cadbury hurried to their chocolate to address a harsh reality. There was a crisis in the family. The chocolate factory, owned by their father John Cadbury, was in decline. The family firm was haemorrhaging money and it threatened to go down under if the brothers did not marshall resources, says the Cadbury scion in her family business biography.

The trade in British chocolate - made from the wonder bean acquired from the new world (cocoa pods from America )- was controlled by barely 40 confectionary traders.

There was one last hope for the brothers who had each inherited 4,000 pounds from their mother. Determined to save the chocolate factory, they staked their inheritance, Deborah Cadbury says.

But business foundered. Cocoa, then processed only as a drink by the Cadbury’s, failed to appeal to the general British palate. Critics found it loaded with froth and “bad to taste”. Something vital was missing.

Adding to their woes, a rival in Bristol, Fry and Sons, which owned one of the largest cocoa works in the world, had introduced a novelty to the Victorian market.

“They experimented with mixing cocoa powder with its bi-product, the excess cocoa fat. Whether by accident or design, they hit upon a way of blending the two ingredients with sugar to make a rich creamy paste. The concoction was then pressed in a mould and left to set. The result was the first chocolate bar in Britain,” Cadbury recalls, quoting from her family book.

But Fry & Sons hit back with a “new minty cream”. The chocolate-covered mint sticks captured the market by storm.

The Cadbury business nearly died. Persistent George Cadbury considered one last reckless gamble, the writer says. He sailed to the Netherlands and purchased a new cocoa press that the Dutch were using to make a smoother chocolate.

The drink bore fruit when the brothers launched an advertisement blitz around the slogan, “Cadbury’s Cocoa, Absolutely Pure, Therefore Best. No Chemicals used,” the book documents.

By the autumn of 1868 the campaign gained momentum. George and Richard Cadbury went ahead to create an assortment of eatable solid chocolates and “packaged them in an aromatic fancy box” to woo high-end buyers. It worked. The business flourished for nearly 150 years.

However, Cadbury’s confectionary business, which was valued at 5 billion (British) pounds in the first decade of 2000, witnessed a turnaround when in 2010 American giant Kraft Food acquired the company in one of the most hotly debated takeovers in British history, Cadbury says.

The combined entity Cadbury-Kraft commanded a worldwide business of 37 billion pounds, winning an ongoing chocolate war, says Deborah Cadbury.

One of the reasons why John, George and Richard Cadbury - the early pioneers of the brand - had to fight harder than the rest may lie in the spiritual philosophy of 19th century British chocolate makers.

They belonged to a spiritual order known as the Quakers or the Society of Friends, which believed in the uplift of the poor and needy. It imposed a strict set of dos and dont’s on trade practices, stressing on employees’ welfare, quality, rejection of display of opulence.

George Cadbury had once said “he wanted to build a model chocolate factory in the middle of great big sinful city”. The Cadbury’s spirit of philanthropy did not match their tardy profits in the initial years, the book says, sowing the seeds of the events to follow.

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