Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Cadbury's and me

Last time I went to the supermarket I bought a block of Whittaker's Fruit and Nut chocolate, instead of the block of Cadbury's I normally buy.

Not an enormously significant act you might say, except that the Cadbury brand has been a very important part of my life ever since I was born, and as far as a person can be wedded to a particular brand, I've been wedded to Cadbury's. The Whittaker's chocolate in my shopping basket was the first I had ever bought, and the first time that I have ever chosen a chocolate brand other than Cadbury's.

Let me explain.

I was born and brought up in Bournville, Birmingham, England. The original home of Cadbury's. The factory is still there, and still makes chocolate. Until I was eleven and ventured outside Bournville to go to secondary school, Cadbury's was suffused into every aspect of my world.

I went to Bournville Infant and Junior Schools, which, we were often reminded, were originally established by George and Elizabeth Cadbury at the turn of the century to "provide education of the highest quality" for the children of his factory workers.

Every Saturday, the music of the 48 bells of the Carillon played by Mr Workman the carillonneur would drift across our garden from its home in the tower on top of the Junior School - and every fifteen minutes of every day we'd hear the bells chime the hour, the half and the quarters.

Mr Aldington, the scariest teacher in the school, had his classroom in the tower, directly beneath the carillon. He was Mr Workman's assistant, and one of the biggest treats of being a pupil at Bournville Juniors was the trip up into the tower during the summer term of our final year to meet Mr Workman and see him play the carillon.

The carillon was (and still is) the sound of Bournville, and as it was housed in George Cadbury's school, we always thought of it as being George Cadbury's very own music.

Our house was a 10-minute walk from the Cadbury factory, and when the wind was in the right direction you could smell the chocolate wafting through the parks and tree-lined lanes of Bournville. It was wonderful. Every afternoon when the hooter sounded to mark the shift change we'd pause and picture the workers streaming in and out of the factory, and we'd wish that we could somehow sneak in with them and be surrounded by that delicious, mystical, magical entity - chocolate.

Every spring for at least three months all the girls in the village would practise and practise to perfect the ancient English art of the maypole dance; and in the summer we'd perform at the Maypole festival which was held once a year at the Cadbury factory recreation ground.

The Queen's Basket, The Gypsy's Tent, The Barber's Pole and (trickiest of all) The Chain - I can still remember the steps to each of those dances, and can clearly recall the excitement of performing them in front of hundreds of people. We were all dressed in white, with garlands of flowers in our hair, and the beautiful turn-of-the-century architecture of the factory was itself a somehow fitting backdrop to the show.

Every Christmas the whole school would be invited to the Cadbury factory cinema to watch a hand-picked movie - and apart from the year when the staff unfortunately selected Old Yeller which had three-quarters of the school in hysterical tears by the end - the visit to the Cadbury cinema was another highlight of our year.

I have so many powerful memories of my childhood, much of it spent playing with my friends in the many parks of Bournville. My dad teaching me to ride my bike in a single day in the park at the end of our lane, and later teaching myself to ride it no-handed along the pathways that criss-crossed the yaching pool park. Watching the old men sail their little model boats in the yachting pool, and the great adventure we had the day of the torrential rain when the whole pool flooded and the entire park became a great brown sea of fast-moving water.

Catching stickle-backs in the stream that ran through the park alongside my friend Tania's house, and climbing the great willow tree next to her house. Falling out of another tree a few years later as I put my full weight on a rotten branch, and having to be rescued by my friend Leslie's mum as I clung upside down from a lower branch, too terrified to move.

Building dens and playing make-believe from dawn to dusk in the vast areas of woodland and fields near Leslie's house, watching the cows in the fields between her house and the yachting pool, and learning to ride horses there too.

Marvelling at the display of pink blossom that covered the dozens of ornamental cherry trees along Woodbrooke Road every spring, loving the mass of crocuses that appeared at the same time each year in the park next to our school; the song of the blackbird in the twilight trees that to me will always be the sound of summer; looking forward with great anticipation to the autumn when we could fossick through the fallen chestnut leaves all the way down Oak Tree Lane from our house to the Bournville Village Trust building, searching for the elusive and much-treasured conker; and loving the strange white-light muffled silence that would herald an overnight fall of snow in winter.

For a place that, by the time I lived there, was essentially a suburb of the big industrial city that was Birmingham, it sounds like an idyllic childhood stuck in a time-warp sometime earlier in the century, and in many ways it was. We knew that outside the confines of Bournville village the rest of the world was not like the place in which we lived, and fundamentally we all knew that our peaceful and tree-lined existence was entirely due to the generosity, character and far-sightedness of the Cadbury family.

The whole of Bournville was, and still is, a conservation area (of which we were very proud) because George Cadbury did such a bang-up job of creating a model village for his workers at the turn of the century.

George Cadbury himself, as we all learned at school, was a Good Guy. A Quaker who built a factory on the outskirts of the big city and determined that the houses he would build for his workers would be a hundred times better than the dwellings most working-class people lived in at the time. Indoor loo, plumbing, hot water, semi-detached (not terraced), and each house had a garden with 6 fruit trees planted in it. Parks throughout the village, a village green, recreation grounds adjoining the factory so that the men and women who worked for him could keep fit, no pubs allowed within the village boundaries (to this day!)... quite amazing really.

This wonderful environment in which I spent my childhood was inextricably linked with Cadbury's, and so it was inevitable that I would maintain my loyalty to that product and brand throughout my life. Until now.

I (and everyone else who has ever lived in Bournville) am more Cadbury's than the individuals who now own the international Cadbury brand will ever be - and it's why the other day in the supermarket I chose not to buy Cadbury's any more - and why I felt sure that George Cadbury must have been turning in his grave at the thought of how far from his original enlightened ideals his products have strayed.

Although New Zealand still makes its own Cadbury's assortments and box chocolates in the Dunedin factory, a restructure in 2008 meant that the manufacture of all our Cadbury chocolate bars was shifted to two Australian factories. For a while we had our own combination of ingredients, different from (and better than) the Australian version, but in order to save money, Cadbury's recently made what I think was a very stupid decision.

I'm sure you know that a couple of months ago Cadbury Australia made three very significant changes to their chocolate - each of which in its own way has had a very negative effect on the quality of the chocolate itself, and on the image of the brand in the eyes of me and many other Kiwis.

Firstly they reduced the size of all their chocolate blocks, with the family block going down from 250g to 200g - and disguised this fact by changing the traditional paper and foil packaging to a cardboard casing which mirrored the old size exactly, while containing 50g less chocolate. You can see it here:

Secondly they reduced the cocoa content from 26% down to 21% - which is only one percent more than the minimum required to still call the product "chocolate"; and thirdly, they replaced the traditional (and many would say essential) cocoa butter with vegetable fat including palm oil.

Not a good look, especially when you find out that palm oil is a big big no-no if you care about the environment, global warming, or the threat to the world's few remaining habitats in Indonesia for endangered Sumatran tigers, Javan rhinoceroses and orang-utans.

In April 2008 Greenpeace launched a campaign in a number of countries to push companies at various points along the palm oil supply chain into supporting measures to protect rainforests from further plantation expansion.

From Greenpeace: Palm oil:

Demand for palm oil is growing and fast. At the moment, most of it ends up in hundreds of food products - from margarine and chocolate to cream cheese and oven chips - although it's also used in cosmetics and increasingly, for use in biodiesel. But the cost to the environment and the global climate is devastating - to feed this demand, tropical rainforests and peatlands in South East Asia are being torn up to provide land for oil palm plantations.

When Cadbury's switched to palm oil in their chocolate they claimed that, being a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) meant that they were only using sustainable palm oil, but Greenpeace refutes that claim. They say:
The RSPO was established in 2001 as a market-led initiative to reform the way palm oil is produced, processed and used, with clear standards on the production of sustainable palm oil. Members include companies all along the supply chain, from big name companies such as Unilever, Cadbury's, Nestlé and Tesco, to suppliers such as Cargill, ADM and Indonesian-based Duta Palma.

As it currently stands, even though member companies are paying lip-service to forest and peatland protection, the reality is very different. The existing standards developed by the RSPO will not prevent forest and peatland destruction, and a number of RSPO members are taking no steps to avoid the worst practices of the palm oil industry. Some like palm oil processor Duta Palma, an RSPO member, are directly involved in deforestation. Worse still, at present the RSPO itself is creating the illusion of sustainable palm oil, justifying the expansion of the industry.

The destruction of rainforests and peatlands to make way for palm oil plantations in Indonesia has a devastating effect on the already shrinking habitats of a number of endangered species, and also contributes to global warming. As Greenpeace explains:
The manufacturers of these products - Nestlé, Procter & Gamble, and Unilever - are sourcing their palm oil from suppliers who aren't picky about where they site their plantations. As the volunteers at the Forest Defenders Camp in Sumatra have seen, this includes tearing up areas of pristine forest then draining and burning the peatlands.

Indonesia's peatlands act as huge carbon stores so replacing them with plantations them not only threatens the amazing biodiversity, including the rare Sumatran tiger, it also releases huge volumes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. They only cover 0.1 per cent of the land on Earth, but thanks in part to the activities of the palm oil industry they contribute 4 per cent to global emissions. If expansion of the palm oil industry continues unabated, that figure can only rise.

It was with great pleasure, therefore, that I read today that Cadbury's has decided to bow to consumer pressure and will stop using palm oil in its Dairy Milk chocolate. Hooray! Apparently they were inundated with emails and letters from disgruntled Kiwi customers, and if the 3,517-strong Facebook group Take Palm Oil out of Cadbury chocolate bars! is anything to go by, feelings were running pretty high out there in the world of chocolate lovers.

When even the sluggish old mainstream media gets in on the act and starts laying out the case against palm oil, you know you've lost the battle.

Whittaker's brilliantly-timed ad didn't help Cadbury's cause much either:

Especially once it was featured on Campbell Live:

I don't for one minute believe that Cadbury's suddenly went all "Greenpeace" on us (although I'm sure Quaker George would have been a quiet supporter if they'd been around back then). I'm quite sure they didn't suddenly develop a conscience about the fate of the orang-utan or climate change.

No, I think it's pretty clear what changed Cadbury's mind - you only have to read the comments on any of the Stuff articles or YouTube videos I've linked to, to see what's been the driving force behind their abrupt about-turn. It's economics, of course.

But is it all too little, too late? Has Cadbury's lost market share to Whittakers for ever? Here are a few examples from Stuff:
too late, i have become addicted to whitakers

I may now consider purchasing Cadbury again - MAY consider! It has been 3 months since my last 'fruit and nut' thick and chunky! lol

That is great to hear - the chocolate just did not taste the same. I wonder if they will also address the fact the pack sizes shrank considerably, meaning we paid the same for not only an inferior product, but we also paid the same for a far smaller size. As soon as I noticed the changes Cadbury had made, I started buying the Kiwi brand Whittaker's... I think I will stay with them for now, as the product is amazing.

This will not change my mind on buying the product. I used to enjoy my block of Dairy Milk but since production moved to Australia it has not been the same in both texture and taste. Whether this was the palm oil I do not know. I now and only will ever buy Whittakers as firstly it is made in New Zealand, and secondly is a far superior product to what Cadbury's is now.

Their decision to use Palm Oil, which only became known via Fair Go so appeared underhanded, single-handedly bombed their position as NZ's most trusted brand. Good decision to now cease using Palm Oil but it will take a very long time to regain the TRUST they once had with the NZ public.

Only time will tell whether Cadbury's will regain the trust of yer average chocolate-loving Kiwi. But one thing's for sure. As Coca Cola also discovered when they changed their recipe - don't mess with a beloved brand. It'll only lead to tears.

As for me, well I have to say I really quite liked my bar of Whittakers Fruit & Nut. I think I might try their Dairy Milk next time - just to see. Cadbury's may have taken the palm oil back out of their Dairy Milk, but they don't say anything about any of their other products in today's press release - and when you compare Whittaker's 33% cocoa with Cadbury's pathetic 21% - well, there's not much competition really is there?

I may be a Cadbury's girl born and bred, but it doesn't mean that at some point I can't explore the world beyond the confines of the village of Bournville...

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Jane said...

Love your blog- have been following since I Googled 'First they came' a couple of years ago. Can I encourage you to go to the Trade Aid website www.tradeaid.org.nz and check out how child slavery is used in the manufacture of those chocolate bars you love; both Cadbury & Whittakers. Children may not be an endangered species like orangutans... YET. The only SLAVERY FREE chocolate in Aotearoa is Trade Aid chocolate and it also tastes fantastic!

webweaver said...

Thanks for the suggestion, Jane - I'll certainly do that. I wouldn't dream of buying anything except Fair Trade coffee, and it's probably high time I did the same with chocolate.

Glad you like the blog!