One of the best parts of my old job was to visit companies to see how things are made and understand the competitive environments they face. Corporate and industry books have always fascinated me as well.
“Chocolate Wars” by Deborah Cadbury and “The Emperors of Chocolate” by Joel Glenn Brenner don’t include Fort Wayne leader DeBrand’s or Wayne Candies of Maple Bun and the Reggie bar glory days. But the biggest companies are well-covered.
If you read either of these, have some chocolate bars nearby: This isn’t like watching sausage made, where you want less of it.
“Chocolate Wars” by Deborah Cadbury of the Cadburys of England is the more interesting book. Her theme, that the benevolent capitalism of the early chocolate industry was replaced by the cut-throat capitalism of Nestle and Mars, is not likely to be welcomed by many, but it is interesting nevertheless.
The very personal development of the companies is fascinating, featuring discoveries of new ways of utilizing cocoa beans (chocolate bars came rather late) and family feuds. In Cadbury’s book, Heinrich Nestle, Rodolphe Lindt and Jean Tobler are real people trying to figure out new uses of chocolate, including blending with milk. The English family firms of Cadbury, Rowntree and Fry had advantages because of the sweep of the British Empire. From the earliest days of hot chocolate until the candy bar battles, the chocolate business has been international in scope.
World War I put tremendous pressure on the chocolate companies of Europe. The Swiss, directly impacted by Germany, consolidated to survive. It fueled the previously marginal American business ventures of Milton Hershey and Forrest Mars.
Mars, in particular, benefited. After separating from his father, who maintained Mars’ American rights to the Big Three “countline” (e.g. counted by individual bars instead of selling in chocolate blocks) chocolate bars — Milky War, Snickers and 3 Musketeers — Mars started an English company. War shortages forced him back to America where he persuaded Hershey to provide him with chocolate by working with Hershey’s President William Murie. Since Mars couldn’t do bars, he named a new product after he and Murie called M&Ms, which soon became No. 1.
Cadbury’s unique contribution is the premise that Cadbury, as well as the other two English giants Fry and Rountree, were defined most by their Quaker values. They viewed their responsibilities to their employees and communities as key, with profits necessary to further their social goals.
They established housing, parks and schools around their plants and joined in the political chorus to respond to social concerns after Charles Dickens highlighted the horrors of English life for the poor. They turned most of their ownership over to trusts, which invested most profits in their projects.
Milton Hershey, with similar roots, established a company town patterned after Cadbury’s as well as a similar boys school and ultimately gave his assets to a trust. Her central point — that capitalism that just seeks profits is wrong — is challenging, even if you disagree.