Saturday, April 16, 2011

Chocolate Wars by Deborah Cadbury - Inspiring, Sad, and Delicious

Pros: Fascinating read for history buffs, business leaders, and chocolate lovers
Cons: None

The Bottom Line: Even though it's a book placed in the business section, it's an excellent read for people who love chocolate, history, or those looking to make their business better.

This is one of those books that you see once and are curious about forever after. After that first glance, it randomly pops up and reminds you that it's there, and that maybe you should read it. But despite my ridiculous love for chocolate (and it is ridiculous), I couldn't get past the business part. I don't think the blurb on the inside jacket did this book any justice either, looking back at it now. Finally, though, I just wanted too much to read about some of my favorite chocolateirs, Cadbury and Hershey, and pulled it off the shelf.

I'm not just being cliché when I say that this book is fascinating to read. It begins year and years ago, in the infancy of chocolate when the Kisses and Crème Eggs we know and love today were as unheard of and impossible as dark matter floating out in space. Two Cadbury brothers struggle to save their father's failing business, which sells cocoa drinks to the people of England. You're transported to Vevey, Switzerland to watch as eventually Daniel Peter creates the first milk chocolate bar (I love you, Daniel), and Nestlé begins its rise. You'll spot familiar names such as Lindt, Tobler, and eventually the famous Milton Hershey and Forrest Mars.

You'll read how the companies discovered their own recipes for making milk chocolate, how they fared through two world wars, how they continued to grow and change as the years progressed and globalization became a driving force in the world. You'll know where Kit Kats really came from, and why Hershey produces goodies with Cadbury's name on it, and why I really, really don't like Kraft right now.

It's difficult for me to review this book because I really want to rant about how things have changed so much, and how a company 180 years old is now under the ownership of a big corporation like Kraft. I like Kraft foods, to be sure, but let's face it, everyone hates corporations and the fact that their CEOs earn millions if not billions of dollars each year when the people on the lowest rungs still make junk. Did you know the gap is now 344:1 when it comes to the pay ratio? And that was in 2007.

Indeed, a lot of this book was historically intriguing, fun to read, and knowing how awesome Milton Hershey and George Cadbury were is inspiring. I really wish the heads of businesses were like them, with goals and amazing selflessness instead of being *expletive**expletives* and seeking only to satisfy shareholders for the short term and focusing only on the bottom line. The fact that Roger Carr of Cadbury refused to pose for a picture shaking Irene Rosenfeld's (of Kraft) hand is simply awesome. My hat is off to you, sir.

It was still interesting even as I reached the end, though by then things had gotten sad. I almost wanted to cry, which seemed so odd, but what can I say? Knowing what I know now about the company, it was depressing to see it fall into such indifferent hands. I'd known that Hershey had their name on Cadbury's chocolate, so before reading this book I'd thought that at some point Hershey had bought Cadbury, which with their mutual goals would be fine. Instead I learned that Hershey bought Cadbury U.S., but not the entire company - that went to Kraft. And the way it all happened was just truly saddening. The way things work with shareholders and buying companies and so forth is a grand idea, but so many people transform it into a sad, flawed one. Do I trust that Kraft won't completely ruin the Cadbury brand? Yes. Do I trust that they'll run it the same way that George Cadbury would have and won't screw over a lot of people over time? Heck no.

But I'm getting off track. If you like history, then this one stretches from 1861 to the present (or as close as Deborah Cadbury could get before publishing this book) and takes an in-depth look at the creation of numerous businesses and the people involved. Some may believe that because a member of the Cadbury family wrote this book, it's going to be skewed - but in her introduction she states her intention is to be as objective as possible. I believe she stayed true to form. After all, with the truckload of research she did, all the proof you need for what's in this book is at the very end in the bibliography. As for business owners, I think it's a good look at what works and how a company can flourish by doing the right thing - and that doesn't mean just staring down at the bottom line. And if you love chocolate, then it's a great way to learn about your beloved food and the people responsible for its creation and growth.

I love chocolate. I've seen images of people cutting down the pods from the cacao trees and letting the beans dry out in the hot sun. I've always hoped that everyone involved with the making of such a great thing has a good time in the process (not always true, but I really want it to be and think it should be). Now I know the history behind so many of the chocolates I enjoy - how Nestlé kind of sucks, how Mars was kind of a jerk, how Cadbury was so instrumental to changes for the better, and how Hershey learned from Cadbury to make what they do today. My one hope out of all of this is that Hershey never folds and falls into the hands of some bigger company at the mercy of short term return shareholders and people in it for the profits.

So read this book and learn all sorts of new things. And Hershey, if you're reading this, keep doing what you're doing, and don't let what happened to Cadbury happen to you. Then I really might cry, for that would be the loss of one of the last great things in the world.


P.S. I couldn't have picked a better time to read this book because Easter was the time that all the Cadbury and Hershey chocolates come out in force. I frequently read while eating Creme Eggs, Mini Eggs, and I even tried their Dairy Milk chocolate because I recognized the name from the book.

Notes from the playlist: "Derezzed" by Daft Punk

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