The Chocolate Cobweb*

*American mystery classic of 1948 by Charlotte Armstrong.

Image: The Daily Mail reported on 28th April this year that Cadbury’s has remodelled its logo by making the lettering more slender and slightly re-moulding its tilt. The new logo was rolled out in Australia last month, to reach the UK in 2021. Cadbury has used the signature of director William Cadbury since 1921, but did not stamp it on chocolate bars until 1960.

Craig Sams founded Green & Black’s organic chocolate in 1991 with his wife Jo Fairley. It was sold to Cadbury in 2005 and he continues in the role of president of the company. On November 15 2010 he reviewed Chocolate Wars, by Deborah Cadbury, for the Financial Times:

“It wasn’t easy being Quaker. Banned from careers in government, the church or law and with their pacifism barring a military career, they were forced into commerce. Their high ethical standards meant they couldn’t be involved with alcohol, gambling or making armaments, so the grocery trade became a natural outlet for their energies.

All the great English chocolate dynasties were Quaker: Cadbury, Fry and Rowntree. Their belief in the brotherhood of man led to paternalistic employment practices. They built garden towns for their employees with crèches, sporting facilities and healthcare. David Cameron’s “Big Society” was second nature: they believed that co-operation and social provision were a necessary and natural adjunct to making money. They encouraged volunteering and debt avoidance as fundamentals of behaviour – until competition from the state made their efforts redundant. If the welfare state encourages dependency, the socially inclusive world of the chocolate industry encouraged self-reliance, hard work and abstemiousness. The Birmingham suburb of Bournville had no pubs and no tolerance for slackers in a tight-knit community – but generous provision for those who repaid the company’s confidence…

The book dwells in detail on the ethical dilemma faced by the early Quaker chocolatiers when they discovered that their cocoa bean supply came from plantations that relied on slave labour and tells how the Ghana cocoa industry was fostered to provide a smallholder-owned alternative. Yet there is just a fleeting mention of Fairtrade and not a word about Green & Black’s, the pioneer brand that my wife Jo and I created, which launched Maya Gold, the first ever Fairtrade-marked product, in 1994. We pioneered both the organic and Fairtrade categories and were a Cadbury acquisition in 2005. The sad fact is that slavery continues to be an issue for chocolate makers, albeit one that they have now joined forces to stamp out…

What triggered Cadbury’s loss of independence? Selling Hershey the US rights to the Cadbury brand in 1988 meant Cadbury could never become a truly global chocolate company. When Cadbury sought to take over Rowntree and become the world’s largest chocolate company the Thatcher government blocked it with a referral to the Monopolies Commission, then allowed a Nestlé takeover that handed the Swiss company global dominion. The disposal of Schweppes soft drinks in 2007 reduced debt and increased profitability but also made the company smaller – just about affordable for Kraft although they still had to make a $3bn asset disposal to fund the purchase.

It may be presumptuous to disagree with the dissenting view of my fellow Omahan Warren Buffett, but Kraft CEO Irene Rosenfeld saw a window of opportunity and seized the moment before it could close. For that Kraft’s shareholders can be eternally grateful – she got a great deal that will amplify their fortunes. The hedge funds dealt the final hand, but the vulnerability was already there and she went straight and determinedly for it.

The book ends on a slightly funereal note, regretting the demise of great British chocolate makers. But all is not doom and gloom: creative destruction is hard at work in the chocolate industry, with new entrepreneurial ventures eroding the concentration of power among the legacy chocolate giants. Britain is leading this new chocolate renaissance and it is becoming a worldwide gastronomic phenomenon.”

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