Chocolate wars: the plight of Cadbury's

US food giant Kraft wants to buy Cadbury. So should we sell such a 'British' brand, or is it just another business?

When George Cadbury decided some 150 years ago to combine the business of making chocolate with his Quaker principles of quiet philanthropy, the result was the famous Bournville village which provided high-quality housing at a low-cost to his employees. As he put it: "No one should live where a rose cannot grow."

The British confectionery giant has proudly hung on to its benevolent image ever since. From George Cadbury's descendants to Lord Mandelson, its supporters have been quick to raise Cadbury's historical determination to build a society as well as its profits as a key reason to resist the £10.1bn takeover bid by American food giant, Kraft.

In a robust defence of the 185-year-old jewel in Britain's food manufacturing crown, Lord Mandelson last week wrapped himself in the flag of corporate patriotism by warning that any foreign buyer of Cadbury would have to "respect our company, respect our workforce and respect the legacy of our company".

All of which suggested that the company would yesterday make its proud heritage as a source of enlightenment in the rapacious world of modern business a key plank of its argument when it formally rejected the hostile bid from Kraft. Asked about the merits of the US conglomerate, Felicity Loudon, the great-granddaughter of Mr Cadbury and a remaining shareholder said: "I identify them with plastic cheese on hamburgers."

But far from underlining the cultural and historical differences between Kraft and Cadbury, the British firm laid out its defence in stark business terms that accused the Americans of trying to "steal" the confectioner with a "derisory offer". In a four-page document, the words "Quaker", "philanthropy", "British" and "ethical" were not mentioned once.

Roger Carr, the Cadbury chairman, told shareholders: "Cadbury is an exceptional business worth much more than the offer put forward by Kraft... Kraft is trying to buy Cadbury on the cheap to provide much needed growth to their unattractive low-growth conglomerate business model."

The message was clear: allow Cadbury to remain out of the clutches of this lumbering transatlantic behemoth not because it has a special place in British hearts – conjuring up images of Bournville workers sending out shiny purple bars of Dairy Milk to the four corners of the Empire – but because this nimble-footed competitor will simply return better profits and growth, particularly in emerging markets.

The stance was in strong contrast to the statements – and sentiments – which have underpinned the debate about the sale of Cadbury, the maker and owner of brands from Creme Eggs to the Curly Wurly, ever since Kraft, the world's second largest food producer and the maker of products from Oreo biscuits to Philadelphia cheese, announced its intentions in September.

In a burst of what free marketeers will doubtless consider navel-gazing corporate nationalism, the battle to reject the American bid has relied heavily on the idea that Cadbury is the last bastion of a peculiarly British brand of Victorian entrepreneurship, combining the earthly pleasures of the cocoa bean with a business model that improved the lot of the workforce with decent homes, gardens, schools and pay. Together with the Rowntree's and Frys of York, the Cadburys were at the heart of a Quaker triumvirate of teetotal confectioners that mixed the allure of chocolate as an alternative to alcohol with a social revolution.

Ms Loudon, who proudly extols the Quaker values of her Cadbury forebears and their enduring influence, said she feared acquisition by Kraft would expunge all vestiges of her family's philosophy. She said: "My fear is this will all become history and it will be too late. I think the predators are circling. It's desperately sad that yet another British icon could go abroad."

Such feelings have been loudly echoed by a coalition of MPs, unions and employees who are calling on Cadbury shareholders not to accept the Kraft bid. They point out that both Rowntree and Frys were acquired by foreign competitors who pledged autonomy for the British firms, only to eventually consign them to history. The Rowntree name was abolished last year and Fry's, owned by Kraft, closed its York factory in 2004.

In reality, Cadbury Plc is every bit as much of a modern, multi-national and unsentimental business as its suitor. It has more than proved itself capable of taking hard-nosed decisions that some suggest sit uncomfortably with its undertaking to invest 1.5 per cent of all pre-tax profits for community investment.

The company, which generated global revenue of £5.3bn last year, announced the closure of its factory at Keynsham, Somerset, with the loss of 500 to 700 jobs as part of a project to move production to Poland. At Bournville, which once employed 11,000 people, a proportion of the 2,500 staff are contract workers who are not accorded the same terms of employment as their permanent colleagues. Staff at the Cadbury World visitor attraction went on strike for higher pay in 2004.

With Cadbury increasingly looking towards a "white knight" deal with another American confectioner, Hershey, experts said that neither sentiment nor national strategy will ultimately play a role in whether or not the British company stays independent.

The Cadbury years


Bournville Village is handed over to an independent trust by the Cadbury company.


Cadbury merges with Schweppes, ending ownership by the Cadbury family.


Cadbury announces closure of its Somerset factory, transferring production to Poland with the loss of 500 jobs.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
footballFollow the latest news from tonight's friendly
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
All the people: Graham Coxon, Damon Albarn, Alex James and Dave Rowntree
musicThe Magic Whip, album review
Presenter Jack Nicholson and George Clooney pose in the press room after 'Argo' won the trophy for Best Picture during the 85th Annual Academy Awards on February 24, 2013 in Hollywood.
The two faces revealed by the ultraviolet light
Scholars left shaken after ultraviolet light reveals faces staring at them from medieval manuscripts
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Neil Pavier: Commercial Analyst

£50,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you a professionally qualified commercial ...

Loren Hughes: Financial Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Loren Hughes: Are you looking for a new opportunity that wi...

Sheridan Maine: Finance Analyst

Circa £45,000-£50,000 + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ac...

Day In a Page

Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell