One thing every child growing up in Britain knows is that it makes very good chocolate. It wasn’t something we ever thought about as kids. Rowntree’s, Fry’s and Cadbury’s all made great confectionary. I certainly never noticed its quality until I tasted a Hershey bar, which was revolting, like rubber. There was a reason for the chocolate being so good. It used a higher proportion of milk within the recipe compared with rival products (remember those ‘glass and a half’ adverts?) but their biggest breakthrough had come in 1866 when better cocoa was brought into Britain with the less palatable butter part pressed out – that’s the bit that gives other chocolate a rubbery texture.
By 1914, Cadbury’s chocolate was the company’s best-selling product. When John Cadbury founded his Birmingham company in 1824, he sold just three products: tea, coffee and drinking chocolate. With the help of his brother Benjamin he grew the business, selling mainly to the wealthy because of the high production cost; Cadbury was granted its first royal warrant in 1854 and soon supplied chocolate to Queen Victoria and her household.
When John Cadbury’s sons took over the business in 1861 it was down to 11 employees and was losing money – but the pair turned the firm around. At the end of the century, inspired by their father’s Quaker ideals, the brothers built the Bourneville estate to house the hundreds of workers the company’s factory required, and to ‘alleviate the evils of modern, more cramped, living conditions’ in the process.
The chocolate we grew up with, Flakes, Dairy Milk, Crunchies, Creme Eggs and Fruit & Nut all came from the 1920s. York, a city built largely on the Quaker wealth of its chocolate factories, was pitched into a dilemma by the outbreak of the Great War. How could it reconcile its pacifist beliefs with the demands of nationalism? When the men went to fight in Flanders, women kept the factories open.
In 2003 Cadbury’s cropped the possessive ‘s’ from its name and sourced its cocoa through Fair Trade channels, following its original ethos. In 2010 the giant Kraft bought Cadbury amid widespread public disapproval, and started moving manufacture to Poland. Its senior management all resigned. The Royal Bank of Scotland funded this loss to the British economy.
However, the Global Centre of Excellence for Chocolate research and development unit ensures that every new chocolate product created by the company anywhere in the world still starts life at its Birmingham HQ. Although Cadbury’s chocolate has been sold in the US since 1988, the products are manufactured by Hershey, causing complaints by consumers who claim they are inferior to the originals.
This week, Kraft quietly abandoned its Fair Trade policy. Fair Trade rules mean that cocoa farmers earn a minimum of £1,600 per tonne of cocoa sold. Cadbury is now a subsidiary of an arm of Kraft known as Mondelez International. Its chief executive is Irene Rosenfeld. Her remuneration rose by 50 per cent in 2014, to $21m. What her farmers will now get is unclear. The company now adopts ‘highly aggressive’ tax avoidance schemes.
From local store with high ideals to global conglomerate with very few – it’s hardly a new story, but does leave a bitter taste in the mouth.