The Chocolate Wars: From Cadbury to Kraft: 200 Years of Sweet Success and Bitter Rivalries by Deborah Cadbury, Harper Press, $RRP 39.99, ISBN: 978-0-00-732555-9, Available now.
The Chocolate Wars is a yarn about the rise and rise of a chocolate empire. Deborah Cadbury (yes, that Cadbury), set out to see what happened to the old family business.
In 1861 Cadbury chocolates was failing. Could the two Cadbury young brothers, George and Richard turn their father’s venture into a profitable business? Spoiler: yes they can.
Despite knowing the ending as soon as you’ve read the title, The Chocolate Wars was still an enjoyable read. The writing is tight and engaging, and the story is well paced. As well as the key tale of the Cadbury business, stories of the other great chocolate manufacturers are woven through. We also learn about the evolution of the chocolate we know and love today.
What amazed me, and clearly interested the author as well, was how well the Cadbury’s looked after their staff. They lead their staff in prayers; gave them picnics and swimming lessons; taught the illiterate to read; paid higher wages than other employees and went so far as to build a model village where the staff could buy their own homes for the same cost as rent in the slums. The author put this down to the Cadbury’s Quaker values, and tutted a little over how paternalistic is all was. It’s the kind of paternalistic people tend to enjoy. My day job provides free fruit, which is pretty great, but HR baulks at the idea of employing a company dentist.
I related this to a coworker, who pointed out that however well the Cadbury’s treated their employees, their chocolate was not fair trade and thousands of workers around the world were suffering. Cadbury did enjoy a bit of hand wringing over the cocoa growers, but not enough is done, and the sugar growers are never mentioned. Still, I got the impression that the Cadbury’s were a force for good in the world.
I’ve heard elsewhere that the Chocolate Wars reads like a novel. I hate to say it, but it doesn’t: real life seldom does. Most of the story focuses on the Cadbury brothers, Richard and George. After their eventual deaths, the twentieth century is skimmed over, before Cadbury is taken over and becomes a major conglomerate. The moral of the story seems to be that companies are better off being run by families who care about their employees, rather than boards who care about the bottom line.
The Chocolate Wars is a beautifully presented book which will appeal to a wide audience. Lovers of biographies, history buffs, and business folk will all enjoy a read. I found it interesting and engaging but not a book to reread. The Chocolate Wars is an excellent Christmas present book which you should race through yourself before wrapping it.