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The Sweet, Social Legacy Of Cadbury Chocolate

Deborah Cadbury was raised on chocolate. As a child an enormous box of Cadbury chocolate would arrive on her doorstep every year, courtesy of a favorite uncle. It was one of the perks of being related to one of the world’s most famous chocolate dynasties.

Cadbury explores the roots of her family’s business and its February 2010 purchase by American food conglomerate Kraft Foods in her new book Chocolate Wars: The 150-Year Rivalry Between the World's Greatest Chocolate Makers.

The Magic Of Cocoa

The Cadbury business began in the early 19th century, when cocoa was very different from what today's consumers are used to. No one had yet figured out how to separate the cocoa butter from the rest of the cocoa bean so cocoa often came in the form of a bitter, oily beverage that was marketed as a health drink.

"Early products had lentils or pearl barley mixed in -- all sorts of products to mop up the fat," Cadbury tells NPR's Mary Louise Kelly. "It was a little while before we realized the magic that there was to get out of the cocoa bean."

Cadbury says cocoa's origins as a health drink contributed to the creation of her family's business.

"The original founders were Quakers, and they were trying to come up with something that they thought would be a nutritious alternative to alcohol, which was the ruin of many poor families," Cadbury says. "They were trying to come up with a business idea that was actually going to help people, and cocoa was this amazing new commodity and they thought they could make a business out of this nutritious drink."

'Quaker Capitalism'

Like many other major English chocolate firms, Cadbury was a Quaker family enterprise and one whose business aims were fused with idealism, a concept Cadbury calls "Quaker capitalism." For companies like Cadbury, the point of having a business wasn't to make a lot of money and then become a philanthropist. The goal was to benefit others right from the start.

"As soon as they were able," Cadbury says, "they were doing things like raising the wages of their workforce, introducing Saturdays off, introducing pensions, introducing unemployment benefits and sickness benefits, and even free doctors, free dentists and vitamin pills for staff."

Then they started to think beyond their own workforce, pursuing the idea that business should benefit the entire community. That concept led to the creation of Quaker Utopian towns like Bournville, a model village just south of Birmingham, England. There, the Cadbury family hoped to improve the lives of their workers and their families by ameliorating the living and working conditions of the working class.

It's those intentions that Cadbury hopes won't change as the company enters a new phase under Kraft ownership.

"The challenge for Kraft," she says, "is to see what aspects of Cadbury Quaker history can be incorporated into the business model to make sure that Kraft really uses the business as a force for good."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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