Brand Update

Desi Brand

Chocolate Wars: The 150-Year Rivalry Between the World’s Greatest Chocolate Makers

Chocolate Wars raises the question of the piety of the Quaker families — the Cadbury and Rowntree and Fry clans that dominated the British cocoa business. They concocted chocolate drinks as alternatives to gin and rum. These good Quaker folk wanted to change the world. For the most part, they failed, though they grew rich trying. The world turned Ms. Cad bury’s relatives and their business into just one more mass-market consumer-products company that was forced to put profit ahead of principle. Ultimately, Cadbury was eaten by the biggest processed-food company in the United States, Kraft Foods Inc. The story begins in the mid-19th century when Richard Cadbury, a devout Quaker opposed to war, oppression, alcoholism and what he considered useless entertainments such as art and music, sent his youngest son, John, to London to study a new tropical product, cocoa, that would be a way to make money. The Quakers had nothing against piling up fortunes and, indeed, poured many of their own into model towns and societies devoted to rescuing the fallen and the drunk.

The Quakers succeeded admirably. As Ms. Cadbury notes, in the early 19th century, 4,000 Quaker families ran 74 Quaker British banks and more than 200 companies. “As they came to grips with making money, these austere men of God helped to shape the course of the Industrial Revolution and the commercial world today,” the author says.

Well, yes, but the conventional history of the chocolate biz and of the industrial revolution is not the whole story. Falling prices in the 19th century, cheap labour driven to cities by recurrent crop failures and various blights, not a little exploitation of labour in prison workshops and availability of cheap inputs from colonies had a lot to do with the success of Europe in dominating the world for the 19th century and half of the 20th.

The problem was that cocoa grows mostly in west Africa, which is a very hot place. Tending the trees and harvesting the cocoa pods was given to African slaves sold by Portuguese merchants operating from the port of Sao Tome. The Portuguese traders and plantation owners were at the time essential to the business. Ms. Cadbury describes the moral issue, which became a very practical dilemma when the British press raised the question of Quaker hypocrisy:

A delicious chocolate bar rested on the unspeakable misery of African slaves and the head of the company, said critics. George Cadbury, a utopian idealist in Britain who built communities for his workers, was just a ‘malevolent cocoa magnate,’ they charged.

It all came to a head in a case for libel brought by Cadbury against a major newspaper, The Standard, which ended in a verdict for Cadbury, which was then awarded the nominal sum of one farthing as compensation for losses.

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