We Spoke to the Man Using Chocolate to Restore Honor to His Family's Name
John Cadbury has ditched the iconic purple wrappers and chocolate eggs in favor of organic, fair-trade bars.
Photo via Love Cocoa
John Cadbury passed his drinking chocolate business on to two of his sons, Richard and George, and the Cadbury company was completely family-operated for more than 100 years; in 1943, the company added its first non-Cadbury to its board of directors. Now John Cadbury's great-great-great-grandson, James Cadbury, has gone into the chocolate business too, but he's doing it without those iconic purple wrappers—and largely without his family name. Cadbury, 30, has recently launched Love Cocoa, a line of luxury chocolate bars that are significantly more sophisticated than the average Milk Tray.
The initial offering of six organic, fair-trade chocolate bars includes a Maldon Sea Salt and Summerdown English Mint, as well as a Dominican Dark Chocolate. Love Cocoa products are currently available through direct online sales only—but that's by design. Cadbury has spoken publicly about his desire to take the Cadbury name back in a "high profile" way, but that was two years ago when he launched Property Moose, a startup described as a property crowdfunding firm. "Being a Cadbury definitely comes with a pressure, but really, I just want to make a name for myself," he told the Birmingham Post at the time.
The truth is, the Cadbury name could use a bit of help itself. In 2010, Cadbury was acquired by Illinois-based Velveeta pushers, Kraft Foods. The £11.5 billion takeover was controversial on paper and only got worse when Kraft promptly closed a Cadbury factory in Bristol, England, slashing 400 jobs that Kraft had promised to keep. According to the Telegraph, its other unpalatable transgressions include rounding the corners of the Dairy Milk bar, outsourcing some production to Poland and, in a particularly Grinch-worthy move, it axed the longstanding program that rewarded long-term employees with a box of chocolates every Christmas.
We had the chance to ask James a few questions about Love Cocoa, his feelings about the family business and why he probably doesn't eat a lot of Kraft Cheesey Pasta.
MUNCHIES: What prompted you to get into the chocolate business? James Cadbury: The idea came to me on my mother's birthday. I wanted to send her some chocolate, but most online services come in big bulky parcels which aren't very environmental and are a bit of a logistics nightmare because you have to go and collect them. I went to the nice chocolate shop down the road, picked some stuff up and boxed it up so it fit through the letterbox. When she got in, she was really happy with it. That's where the idea came from.
But why chocolate? Do you feel like you're getting into the candy business despite your name or because of it? I've always had a close relationship with the chocolate business. I went to Cadbury World for lots of birthdays when I was young and my parents were always telling me about the history. I just found that really fascinating, about how it went from a small coffee shop in Birmingham [England] in 1824. Then it went bust until 1866, when George Cadbury went to Holland and bought this cocoa press, which basically changed the way chocolate was made. That made the chocolate more pure and the cocoa essence creamier, a lot more like what we have today. Before that, it was rubbish product and ingredients. Things like that inspired me.
You were inspired by their entrepreneurship? No, it wasn't just the entrepreneurship. They also wanted to improve workers' rights, so it became a model business. There were a lot of charitable interests, many of which are still going today.
Do you find yourself moving toward social causes as well, and not just being a chocolatier? One of our promises as a company is to give back 10% to charity. At the moment, I use a supplier who has direct links with a lot of farmers and cooperatives in Ecuador and the Dominican Republic [where Love Cocoa is sourced]. As we grow, I would like to get more involved and learn more about that. You have to experience it before you can improve it.
But you feel a lot of additional pressure, right? [Laughs politely] Yes! People are expecting something good. People do mention the Cadbury family and they're sort of hoping that I can replicate some of what they did, so there's pressure from that, no doubt.
Do you feel like you have to reclaim the Cadbury name after the Kraft merger? Lots of people over here [in the United Kingdom] were disappointed with the way that happened. It was a hostile takeover and, at the time, a lot of people hoped the government would be able to step in to stop it going through. That didn't happen, and people have been disappointed in what's happened since. That has changed people's perception of the [Cadbury] name. If I could create something quality, something to be proud off, then definitely.
On Twitter, you posted about Channel 4's 'Secrets of Cadbury' documentary, calling it the story of "how Kraft has destroyed my family heritage." Kraft has done lots of things that go against what [Cadbury's] stood for. When George and Richard [Cadbury] set up, their vision was for a company that looked after the workers. Some of the stuff that Kraft has done since the takeover doesn't fit with that vision or that tradition, like moving one of the factories from Bristol to overseas or cutting some of the workers' benefits.
Where do you hope Love Cocoa is this time next year? Hopefully, we'll start selling in more countries and in retailers. At the moment, it's just focused online with the through-the-letterbox delivery. And we'll branch out and do lots of different bars with lots of different origins. Right now, I do that through a supplier but, in the future, I want to go direct to the farmers. Mast Brothers are an inspiration to me, how they work really closely with some of these farmers now.
Mast Brothers faced some backlash for claims they made about their own sources, about being bean-to-bar chocolate. Has that affected you or forced you to be more transparent? All of the information about where source the chocolate from is on our page. We don't hide that. We're not bean-to-bar, we're definitely not anything like that at the start. In the future, I'd love to do it. In my eyes, more information is better, and then the customer can judge you.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.