How A Sweet Story Turned Sour

Great Britain

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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.

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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.

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16 comments on “How A Sweet Story Turned Sour”

  1. Rachel Green says:

    Now I’m glad I gave up chocolate.

  2. chazza says:

    Won’t touch Cadbury products…

  3. Anchovee says:

    I’ve not bought a Cadbury product since they reneged on a deal not to lay off any UK workers. One little stand against The Man! I do miss a Crunchie though but I’m standing firm.

    I’ve tried some Dairy Milk since (I didn’t buy it) and (I don’t care how much they deny it) it does taste different. I’m not keen on the taste of Nestlé chocolate, or Thorntons and Hotel Chocolat (way overpriced) so avoid them to but I do love Divine chocolate. I agree with Christopher about Hersheys – to me it tastes like vomit.

    I am concerned about the Cadbury ditching Fair Trade though – apparently they have endorsed the Cadbury scheme but I’d feel much better purchasing items under the Fair Trade banner than a firm’s own scheme with who knows what safeguards.

  4. DC says:

    I won’t say I have stopped buying Cadbury but I have certainly significantly reduced my reliance on them. I found the latest generation of Creme Eggs grim tasting. I can’t tell whether the Dairy Milk recipe has changed or it is just my perception but I can take or leave it (mostly leave).

    To be honest, if I want a slab of cheap chocolate then the High Street allow me to find preferrable options for less money.

  5. Roger says:

    Many years ago as a cyclist I got through vast amounts of Cadbury’s chocolate. It was said – I don’t know how truthfully – to restore blood sugar levels faster than any other kind. Another reason – besides wanting to stay alive – for not taking up cycling again.

  6. Alan says:

    I once ate twenty Cadburys Cream Eggs, one after the other, and was very ill.

  7. Jan says:

    Cadbury chocolates proper nice but European chocolates nicer still… I don’t mean just the luxury Belgian wonderstuff…..if you waddle,along to Lidl they do decent size bars of their chocolate in white, milk and dark chocolate forms for 30p!! It’s very nice and good quality.
    They do some lovely Chocolate tree decorations far superior to Cadbury well worth a try.
    That’s my Lidl advert over Aldi’s is,almost as good.

  8. agatha hamilton says:

    I wish you hadn’t put that picture of Fruit and Nut with this post. I haven’t thought about it for years, nor missed it. Now I fancy it but obviously can’t buy it without becoming a moral pariah. And you don’t want one of those in your readership, do you?

  9. Joel says:

    Cadbury is now a joke – standard supermarket choc is good, and cheaper. Tasting morsels offered by others proves beyond doubt that the Cadbury taste has been Americanised. The smell of ‘vomit’ pervades a lot of US-made choc, as it does of Kraft /Mondalez attitudes to production, sourcing and pricing.

  10. Helen Martin says:

    Great grief! I am a lover of dark chocolate, although fruit and nut was the favourite of my childhood, so I shifted early to European brands, as well as two local manufacturers. I never liked Hershey’s and believed an article I ead which said that American chocolate tastes the way it does because the solid chocolate first introduced was over-cooked and Americans got used to that flavour so it’s all processed that way. Feel free to correct me as I don’t know the source of that info. Always felt I could trust Cadbury’s – all those Quakers, you know – but definitely not now.
    Have you noticed that the big Society of Friends families went either into chocolate or steel manufactury?

  11. Brian Evans says:

    Hershey Bars taste of nothing. Though so does most of the food eaten in the USA.
    I don’t touch Cadbury now, it tastes different, the bars keep getting smaller and , most of all, I hate conglomerates. It’s now gone to the opposite of what the decent Quakers intended.

  12. Brooke says:

    Fortunately there is a resurgence of real chocolate — at least here on the US east coast. Young entrepreneurs are producing high quality stuff using Fair Trade practices and local coffee bars (not Starbucks, ugh.) and tea shops offer Fair Trade chocolate products. Haven’t seen a Cadbury candy in ages!

  13. Charles says:

    @Anchovee, your vomit must taste delicious, then.

  14. John Griffin says:

    Crunchies taste of Sweet FA now, the honeycomb tastes of absolutely nothing, unlike real honeycomb, and we have stopped eating any other Cadbury products as they became increasingly unpalatable, greasy even. Cheap supermarket FairTrade chocolate is massively better.
    Being a cynical old lefty, knew exactly which way the Kraft deal would go. Multinationals ALWAYS lie, corrupt and cheapen, as it is good, legally required, business for the shareholders and senior managers.

  15. Wayne Mook says:

    Cadbury’s also bought out Green & Black’s, so now I guess we won’t be able to trust that either. Someone always has an angle on how to make quick money.

    Wayne.

  16. Helen Martin says:

    Wayne, say it isn’t so! I’ve enjoyed Green & Black and as you say I’ll not count on quality from that source any more.

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