How Sugar Made Tycoons Out Of A Religious Sect

Quaker StarMultinational junk-food company Kraft’s takeover of Britain’s mass-market chocolatier Cadbury has stimulated all sorts of criticism, especially from xenophobic newspapers like the Daily Mail, with its Keep Cadbury British campaign. Now the British media are looking at Cadbury’s religious roots, asking how sugar made tycoons out of a religious sect. Just one of several similar reports, from the BBC:

Cadbury, which has been sold to US firm Kraft, is one of several great British firms founded by Quakers. But how did they gain such a stranglehold on the chocolate industry and why were they so successful in business?

For a religious sect more interested in championing social reform than industry, the Quakers have established an impressive roll call of household business names.

Barclays and Lloyds banks, Clarks shoes, Bryant & May matches and the biscuit firms Huntley & Palmers and Carrs are just a few of the companies founded by members of the pacifist group.

But when it comes to confectionery, there has been a virtual monopoly for more than a century, led by Cadbury of Birmingham, Fry’s of Bristol and Rowntree’s and Terrys of York.

This achievement is all the more remarkable given the tiny numbers of Quakers. In 1851 they only accounted for about one in 1,400 of the population of 21 million in England, Scotland and Wales – less than 0.1%.

The move into chocolate began with cocoa drinks in the 19th Century as a reaction against the perceived misery and deprivation caused by alcohol, says Quaker historian Helen Rowlands.

“Quakers and other non-conformists at the time were concerned about levels of alcohol misuse in the population at large, they were part of the temperance movement.

“Cocoa was a way of providing cheap and available drink. It was healthy because you had to boil the water to make it when they didn’t have good water supplies.”

There was a friendly rivalry between the manufacturers, many of whom started out as general grocers, but also a fraternity.

“There were certainly strong networks between them. They knew one another from their church-based life, and because of the way they had been excluded and persecuted on the edge of society, there was a strong sense they should help each other out,” says Ms Rowlands.

“So they developed strong business networks as well as personal ones.”

As they moved into producing chocolate bars, several of the Victorian Quaker firms bought new cutting-edge machinery and established a competitive edge over other producers.

[more at the BBC]

, , ,

21