Chocolate wars : the 150-year rivalry between the world's greatest chocolate makers

by Deborah Cadbury

Hardcover, 2010



Call number



New York : PublicAffairs, c2010.

User reviews

LibraryThing member mkboylan
This is Deborah Cadbury of THE Cadbury family. She writes about Cadbury, Hershey, Nestle, and other companies and the development of chocolate as a food product. It begins with people wondering what to do with this bean to make money with it. It includes information about developing these products, finding the cocoa beans, growing the beans in new locales around the world, marketing to different cultures i.e. convincing people they need it and on and on and is fascinating. For me the most interesting part however, was about the business models used. I learned how a business can grow from that one individual businessman with decent morals, to an international corporation willing to use slave labor for a buck. Is it grow or die or are their alternatives? My favorite quotation:

"The problem with the way we have developed our system of shareholder capitalism is that the shareholder is being divorced from his role in ownership," explains Sir Dominic Cadbury, the last family chairman.

Cadbury and a few other chocolate makers were practicing Quakers and wanted to use their business in service of their faith. Some of their guiding beliefs for business are:

Keep your word.
Do not go into debt or bankruptcy.
Watch over other Quaker businesses and advise their owners when they appear to be in trouble or making poor or unethical
decisions, and take influence from them yourself.
As the Industrial Revolution built momentum, they were warned against paper credit and that warning was added to their written guidelines.
They had meetings monthly with other Quaker business leaders and discussed business principles, check that their ethics and beliefs are in line with their actions and if not, after repeated warnings were given, they would be disowned by the Society of Friends. As wealth grew, additional guidelines were added warning Friends that accumulation of riches for oneself was not acceptable. Annually they met with other Quaker business leaders from a larger geographic area requiring travel, to address these ideas also. They thus developed written ethical guidelines and business guidelines and helped each other succeed financially also. As wealth continued to build, guidelines were also written for children of rich Quakers to ensure they were not corrupted.

Of course those are basically just decent principles for living, right? This book is the story of the attempt to fulfill that Quaker purpose. Many succeeded as did the Cadburys initially, but when problems continued to arise with the growth of industrialization, the first break for the Cadburys with their ethics was they began advertising. Other companies were having great success advertising already, and Cadbury joined in. They believed they were selling an excellent product in their drinking chocolate that was both good for health, and an optional substitute for alcohol which was causing great problems. In this way they justified their decision to advertise, but it was a definite break from their religious ethics.

Some other things these Quaker businessmen did was build housing for their employees and help them to buy them. The housing community areas included green space, gardens (with gardeners to teach them how to raise food), swimming pools, tennis courts and other amenities. Cadbury also provided education and health care. These sound admirable at first glance, but seem to some to be rather paternalistic. How about you pay your employees a fair living wage so that they can afford to choose their own housing, education and medical care? The Cadburys and others also did much philanthropical work but again, how about you pay people enough that they don't need your charity? This idea is also addressed in the book with a quotation from a theologian from Dartmouth, William Jewitt Tucker, "I can conceive of no greater mistake, more disastrous in the end to religion, if not to society, than of trying to make charity do the work of justice."

There are just a multitude of ideas in this book that are so important, and really have not changed today. As the Cadburys (and other families also) attempt to do good things, they keep getting stymied. This might be a good place to discuss the existence of altruism - is there such a thing? At any rate, they are almost universally stymied in their efforts, whether altruistic or not. For example, they learn that slavery is being used by their cocoa bean sources. When they decide to boycott those growers, or go to another supplier, the British government suggest that other buyers will just take their place, whereas if they wait and work with the British government they can put pressure on the Portuguese government to not only end slavery but reform labor practices holistically. Cadbury agrees to do this somewhat undercover, but word gets out and they are crucified in the press for not boycotting immediately. Again, when Cadbury decides to buy a newspaper or two to disseminate information (read propaganda) supporting their beliefs, that is antiwar and pro labor, they are again accused of hypocrisy when it is made known that their newspaper has continued advertising for gambling, while they preach against it. Cadbury believed the paper would go bankrupt without that advertising (based on previous experiences) and decided it would be better to have a paper with gambling info and antiwar sentiments, rather than just the one paper with gambling advertising and pro war sentiments.

Cadbury also addresses the effects of two world wars on business. When WWI began, Cadbury put a lot thought of thought into what would be the appropriate use for a Quaker's wealth under those circumstances. One of the things that came out of that was ambulance support and workers. I can appreciate conscientious objectors, but what does this ambulance support mean? I support your war enough to risk my life taking care of you but not to kill someone else, only to make it easier for YOU to kill someone else? Interesting interpretation.

The end of the story is basically, everyone gets taken over and becomes too large to be accountable. What remains today of the philanthropy or good works of Cadbury and I believe Hershey also, are trusts that are separate from the business.

If you look at corporations today and wonder how the heck we got in this greedy mess, with CEOs who make 300 times what their workers do, this is a good example of how it all works. 4.5 stars - would have been 5 but it was sometimes hard to track the info and stories because of the breadth of info. I haven't even begun to touch on the material covered in this book..
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LibraryThing member mabith
This book is absolutely wonderful.

The author keeps the story moving swiftly, writes in completely chronological order, and writes very well in general. While the focus IS Cadbury, she doesn't neglect the other major firms. Keep in mind that it's not meant to be a history of chocolate, but a history of innovations, rivalries, and how/why the Quaker businesses faded away.

Some people have complained that this talks about the Quakers and Quakerism too much, but the English chocolate firms and Quakers are inseparable. That's part of what led them into chocolate making and it influenced every part of how they ran their businesses and what they did with the money.

The only thing I disliked in this was that she gave prices in different currencies. It's meaningless to go from pounds to dollars, because I have no idea what the exchange rate was in 1904 or 1947! It makes giving dollar amounts pointless. That's a really minor issue and didn't affect my enjoyment of the book, but that sort of thing just grates on me a bit, because it's so illogical and useless.

I read at least two books every week, most of them non-fiction, and this is one of the best I've read in a long time. I highly recommend it. Also, the audio edition is done really well.
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LibraryThing member kaulsu
I finished reading this last night. This morning on NPR I heard about Ron Lauder, the heir to the Estee Lauder fortune. He has 4 MILLION shares of Estee Lauder stock. He uses them as collateral against a loan and lives off the loan. He pays no Income Tax since he has no income.

Of course this book is not really about corporate greed nor about the wealthiest 1% not contributing monetarily to society, but the end result of hostile takeovers is a downturn in societal well being. I suppose if all things are cyclical, then what goes around will come around and we will eventually see small businesses growing once again.

ps: shouldn't this book have come packaged with a bar of chocolate?
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LibraryThing member SwitchKnitter
This was a great read. Deborah Cadbury's writing style is fresh and interesting, and she writes about her family without too much hype. I liked it a lot. Definitely recommended.
LibraryThing member sriemann
Choc full (had to put some kind of pun in there) of information about the Cadbury, Rowntree, Fry, and Hershey family companies. Most of the book was about the first three families, who based their business dealings and decisions squarely on their Quaker faith, and used the money they (eventually) made as a means to an end -- helping humanity to be at its best. The information about the early days and trusts/villages that the family businesses created was most interesting to me. When it got into the 60s and beyond it wasn't as engrossing, since the mergers started happening and the companies, now owned by shareholders, began to make decisions with money as the end, and not the means.

I was interested enough that I did a googlenews about Cadbury to see how Kraft is doing as the new owners.... wasn't impressed by what I found.
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LibraryThing member lindap69
fascinating look at life in England as well as the story of how chocolate came to be such a popular sweet; not as dry as some non-fiction
LibraryThing member olgalijo
I wouldn't call "The Chocolate Wars" a page turner, but it's definitely worth reading. There is a lot to learn here, from the birth of Quakerism to breakthrough discoveries in food processing.
LibraryThing member Shirezu
A life long chocolate fan and as an Australian who grew up with the number 1 chocolate being Cadbury I really enjoyed this book. It was fascinating to see where it all started and how it got to where it is today.

I agree with the author that there really is something missing from big companies today. It's too much focused on the dollar.

I know the main company the book focused on was Cadbury but I would have liked to have had more about Mars and the European companies like Lindt. I know there were sections on each but I'd have liked more.

Overall though it was a great read on a once mighty company that has succumbed to the perils of globalisation.
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LibraryThing member nandadevi
Real history is complex, and this story of Cadbury Chocolates and its great rivals, Hersey's and Rowntree and Nestle amongst them, is complex, but also very revealing and entertaining. What is most surprising is how many of these companies were founded by families with deep religious convictions. The Quakers, or Society of Friends, played a particularly central role in this history of corporate good, of philanthropy, and eventually of rivalry and corporate geed and ruthlessness.

Cadbury has - obviously - a certain affection for Cadbury, and her enthusiasm for the subject makes this an easy and interesting read. There's certainly more than chocolate here, but a social history of the British Empire and the United States, and not a little history of business and religion as well. The final chapters, of companies circling Cadbury and moving in for the kill (in a corporate sense) is as gripping a tale of corporate treachery as you'll ever find - even though you wonder if the author's obvious effort to write a balanced account really succeeded.

But passion is no friend to balance, and a great book usually owes more to the former than the latter. I can't say that this is a great book, but it is a very good book, and essential for anyone with an interest in chocolate, or in the evolution of corporate behaviour - and misbehaviour.
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LibraryThing member jjmcgaffey
Eh. The book would have been better if she could have decided what story she wanted to tell. There was the story on the cover, the rivalry between various chocolate companies - but that didn't show up until about halfway through the book. There was the story I think she was really driving for, about Quaker capitalism vs both early bad practices and modern globalism. There was the history of the Cadbury family - interesting, but slight in itself. And there was the story that took up most of the first half of the book, that I found the most interesting part of it - the development of sweet eating chocolate from the harsh drinking chocolate that was originally brought back from the New World. The various new concepts, and working out of complex methods for turning a bitter, oily powder into something rich, sweet, and creamy, was fascinating. But the book kept bouncing back and forth between these various stories, following one for a while then shifting abruptly to another course, and it made it hard to follow any of them, let alone all. The eventual conclusion - that being bought by a global conglomerate will probably be bad for Cadbury, in the sense of diluting or destroying its unique corporate culture - is utterly unsurprising. The legal and financial shenanigans (all legal, but shenanigans nonetheless) that led to the purchase were...rather dull, to me. Not something I care about. The "chocolate wars" were slightly more interesting, but still mostly (after the very early days, when it was competition on sales only) couched in financial terms - protecting themselves from hostile takeovers, making and breaking alliances with other chocolate and confectionery companies, one company trying to scrape up the money to buy or merge with another... Again, not really something I care about. I'm glad I read it - I hadn't realized the Quaker influence on early business practices, and the development of chocolate was fascinating - but I have no interest in ever reading it again.… (more)
LibraryThing member NikNak1
Fabulously written book regarding the history of the chocolate business and how Cadburys started everything and the other chocolate factories followed suit. Also very interesting to read about what Cadburys did during the war effort in Bournville during WWII - I had heard a little from my Grandmother who worked there but to read more was awesome. It's a total loss that the UK has lost Cadburys to the USA and something the British have never and will never take well… (more)
LibraryThing member zmagic69
An excellent story about the chocolate business, the Quaker families who played a part in it, the social good these men and their companies provided, as well as the history of chocolate from a drink to the sweet milk variety we know today. It is also lesson against globalized companies and shortsighted short term stock owners.
Oh you will probably want you favorite bar close at hand while reading this, as you will likely get hungry.
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LibraryThing member salvadesswaran
I have always loved chocolate and reading about the history of the best chocolate maker (in my opinion) was fun. More a Cadbury family history than a history of chocolate, but who'd want to read a whole book about how a cocoa seed becomes a plant and then is turned into yummy delights?

A great read (I love chocolate and I love history, so I'd naturally be biased), recommended for anyone who loves chocolates.

All I need to do now is wipe off my drool and go buy some Bournville.
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