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The extraordinary story of Cadbury

The extraordinary story of Cadbury
I’m Melissa Andrada, and I’m a lead strategist at Wolff Olins. Today I’m going to be interviewing Deborah Cadbury, author of The Chocolate Wars, and talking to her about the origins of the Cadbury brand. Deborah, could you tell us a bit about yourself? OK. My name is Deborah Cadbury. I currently work as a writer. I’ve done seven non-fiction books, of which Chocolate Wars was the latest. Before that, I had worked at the BBC for thirty years, and have made a large number of award-winning documentaries. Can you tell us about the origins of the Cadbury brand? The Cadbury brand really began with a cocoa shop in the 1820’s. At the time, there was no notion at all of mass-produced confectionery.
There was no supermarket where you could just pop along and buy a Mars bar or a Rodolphe Lindt bar or a Henri Nestle chocolate bar. These people weren’t born. And even cocoa itself was an incredibly novel idea. It was this new, strange bean on the colonial market in London from America. And the reason why distant forbears of mine were involved as Quakers was because they thought that the cocoa bean would make a very nourishing new drink and serve as an alternative to alcohol. But the problem was that at the time, there was no technology for separating out the very fatty cocoa butter from the rest of the bean.
So this was a drink which, I think, if you or I were faced with it today, we’d be horrified, because the fat could be visibly floating on the surface. I think it could be quite indigestible. It may be good for you, but whether you’d actually want to drink it, I don’t know, is another matter. And it was common practise amongst Victorian cocoa manufacturers to add all sorts of things, like lentils and hulled barley. Unscrupulous manufacturers were adding poisons to their product. Anyway, so what happened was that in the second generation, George and Richard Cadbury– again, two brothers– were faced with a loss-making business, and they were very keen to turn it around. They were literally down to their last penny.
And they heard of a machine in Holland where Dutch manufacturers had very cleverly worked out a way of pressing the cocoa so they could reduce the cocoa butter. And somehow, George Cadbury persuaded this Dutch rival to sell him the cocoa press. And he bought it, proudly carrying it, last bit of money gone. Could he now turn around and make a better quality cocoa? And they did. They came up with something that they called Cocoa Essence. And they tried to sell it. But again, it looked like they were on the verge of disaster, because no one would buy it. So finally, they turned to advertising, which– as Quakers– was something that was quite alien to them.
As Quakers, you know, it’s widely believed if it was a wholesome product, it would sell itself. You didn’t need to promote it. That was somehow distasteful. But George Cadbury went ahead with this fantastic poster campaign, “Absolutely 0 Pure and Therefore Best.” Very simple message. And this– a picture of a little girl with her cocoa– this was posted all over the wonderful horse-drawn omnibuses in central London, and on shop fronts, and everywhere. And suddenly Cocoa Essence caught the public imagination. People realised it was possible to get a really lovely drink. And the cocoa business turned around. Can you tell us how Quakerism influenced the Cadbury brand? Yes. Well, at the time, they were Quakers.
And Quakerism really pervaded every aspect of the business, even why they were making cocoa. Because, as Quakers, they were teetotal– they were members of the total abstinence movement. And drink was really a tremendous problem in the industrial poor in the industrial cities of Victorian Britain. There were gin palaces, and it was just incredible. People would– men would come out of the factories and spend their entire wages on drink. And families would be starving. And as Quakers working in the local community, they really saw the problem up close, close-hand. So I was quite surprised when I was researching the book, because I came across this marvellous scrapbook that Richard Cadbury had kept while he was creating the business.
And I thought, good, it’s going to finally tell me how they turned the business around. But it didn’t. I opened it up, and the whole thing was full of what their life was like as Quakers in Victorian Birmingham in the inner cities, with campaigns for just about every kind of thing that would help the community that you can think of– from trying to help the poor with drink– which was one of the reasons why they were creating cocoa in the first place, as a nutritious alternative– To trying to get smoke out of cities, trying to stop the practise of chimney sweeps sending the workhouse boys up chimneys.
I mean, you name it– there were incredible ills, and the Quakers were all over it. So when the business started to be successful, what really heightened the brand and added to the whole image of the brand was that they were able to apply their Quaker values on really quite a huge scale. So with business success, they were able to start to really implement the values that they had. And Quakers believed that the real goal of an employer was to try to seek the fullest life of which an individual is capable. And all employees should have the same chances.
So they were very keen to move out of the inner city into– it was actually countryside around Birmingham, to create a model village which became known as Bournville. So it was very Utopian. They were going to create the perfect chocolate factory, and with it, a village for their workforce, with everyone benefiting from the business. And over time, this grew to really quite a stupendous enterprise, where they were pioneering all sorts of reforms– from pension reforms and unemployment benefits, sickness benefit, free vitamins, and homes– Cripples– holiday homes for children from the city. It was really a revolution in employment conditions and welfare. And of course, all of this affected how the brand was perceived as well.
I’d love to hear about your book, and could you give us a brief summary of the book for our learners? (LAUGHING) OK. Well, in Chocolate Wars, through the very personal story of four generations of Cadbury brothers and their rivals, and really unfolding the story of something as iconic as a chocolate bar, and of course its delightful lost world– this story of 19th century and early 20th century Quaker world in which they operated.
Well, when we were in the middle of the credit crunch and the extraordinary greed of the banking system, and suddenly this was brought home to us, it suddenly seemed to me a really interesting model to look at, because, obviously, fantastic brands were created according to a completely different model. Now, at the time, religion was an integral part of business, and it informed every aspect of business– from the quality of the product, to what product you made, its value to the consumer, how the staff should be treated, and so on. And in tracing through to today’s form of capitalism, we really clearly have removed religion from business– and many would say, rightly so.
But what I’m also asking is, have we removed the morality from business? Because that’s a question that concerns all of us. That was fascinating, Deborah. Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. Really, really interesting to hear about the origins of Cadbury, and the influence of Quakerism, and hearing about your book. Thanks a lot.

Melissa Andrada interviews Deborah Cadbury, author of Chocolate Wars (2011) and descendent of the Cadbury family, on the origins of Cadbury and influence of Quakerism on the brand. As you listen to the interview, consider:

What are the three most important lessons we can take away from how the Cadbury family started and grew the brand?

What was the role Quakerism played in the development of the brand?

Do you think Quaker thinking can play a role in the creation of contemporary brands and businesses? Why or why not?

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