Book review: Chocolate Wars

From humble bean to global boardrooms, Chocolate Wars plots the history of chocolate making from cocoa’s less glamorous introduction to Britain’s consumers as a nutritious and medicinal concoction from the early 1800s...

by William Smyth-Osbourne

Investment Manager

... through the seminal production of milk chocolate, to the creation of our most treasured treats in Dairy Milk, Aero, Smarties, Snickers, Mars Bars and many more. The book explores the rivalry and friendship of the Quaker families of Cadbury, Rowntree, and Fry whose vision and entrepreneurship saw them dominate the UK market, for a long time the world’s largest consumer of cocoa, whilst the likes of Nestle in Switzerland and Hershey’s in the USA took hold of international markets.

Whilst the development of chocolate production provides the central narrative of the book, perhaps more intriguing in an era where environmental, social, and governmental principles feature more and more highly in the consciousness of consumers and investors, it is the overwhelming success of Quakerism that shines prominently from Cadbury’s history. Staying true to their Quaker values, Britain’s chocolatiers went through great efforts to ensure the welfare of their workforce, culminating in the great model villages surrounding their new factories. First, the Cadbury brothers built Bourneville outside Birmingham in 1880, transporting their workers and their families from the overcrowded grime of the industrial revolution to open fields, sports, gardens, and community, and accelerating the company’s success in the process. Joseph Rowntree followed suit in 1890, and when favour finally turned his way in the US, Milton Hershey built a whole town around the turn of the century. Each had incredible wealth, but each thought more for their workers and the poor around them than the fortunes of themselves, and reaped the rewards in a virtuous circle.

Today’s technology-driven world, to an extent, masks the progress in workplace improvements that were so stark in the physical world of industrial Britain, but the health of one’s workforce (both physical and mental) and the sustainability of working practices, and therefore productivity, plays a huge part in the success of a company. As investors, we must be awake to these issues and learn our lessons from the success of the pioneering Quaker chocolatiers.

The JM Finn  Investment Book Club was convened in the hope that, month by month, some of the wisdom of investing gurus such as Warren Buffet, Charlie Munger, and Mohnish Pabrai might rub off on the participants eager selves.

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