A Selection of Confectionery

The story of the confectionery industry is tightly wrapped up in Quakerism and three of the faith’s most influential families.

The Quakers became first became involved in the chocolate trade with the introduction of cocoa drinks in the 19th century. This was a reaction to the perceived problems that alcohol caused society. As part of the temeperance movement, Friends thought of  Cocoa having medicinal properties that would be a good alternative to alcohol and therefore chocolate drinks were seen as an ‘innocent trade’.

Three chocolate drinks manufacturers emerged from Quaker families, Rowntree’s of York, Fry’s of Bristol and Cadburys of Birmingham. There was a friendly rivalry between these three manufacturers and between them a strong sense network of both business and personal links were built. Therefore, their faith drove them to help one another out and make their businesses examples of best practice that would benefit society and further widen acceptance for the Quakers in general.

Various Quaker businesses had been well established by the time the chocolate manufacturers came along. Their reputation for honesty and reliability running parallel with their quest for justice, equality and social reform meant the general public eagerly bought Quaker quality chocolate drinks.

Edible Chocolate and Pastilles

In 1847, Frys expanded from selling drinks and introduced the mass-produced chocolate bar to England.  They melted cocoa butter, mixed it with cocoa powder and sugar and pressed the resulting paste into a mould with natural additives mixed in. Non Quaker competitors sprang up with their own chocolate bars and the less scrupulous ones used brick dust to colour their chocolate. For the consumer, the choice was clear. When you bought a Quaker chocolate bar you buying a product that was well made and honest.

When George Cadbury and his brother Richard took over their father’s chocolate business in 1861 they invested heavily in new cutting-edge machinery. This was to keep ahead of the competition and develop new production methods to remove the need for any additives in their chocolate. They also became innovators at advertising using the slogan, ‘Absolutely Pure: Therefore Best‘.

In 1868, Cadbury’s became the first to mass-produce the chocolate box. Fancy Boxes, a decorated box of chocolates, and in that year they were sold in boxes in the shape of a heart for Valentine’s Day. Boxes of filled chocolates quickly became associated with the holiday ever since. The Fancy Boxes became a best seller and propelled Cadbury’s into a hugely successful world leading manufacturer. The increase in size would later see Cadbury’s purchase the Fry’s chocolate business in 1913.

In 1881, Joseph Rowntree introduced Fruit Pastilles as competition to French imports that were being sold at the time. These proved popular and allowed the company to expand into making chocolate. However, it would be sweets that would define the Rowntree’s brand and in 1893 they began selling fruit gums.

Investing in Employees

In accordance with their Quaker values both Cadbury’s and Rowntree’s invested in the well-being of their employees.  For Cadbury’s, 144 cottages were built near the company’s factory in Bourneville, Birmingham for staff to live in. Bourneville became known as a model village with medical facilities, a canteen, leisure activities and community gardens. Cadbury’s was also the first firm to introduce the five day week.

Rowntree founded the village of New Earswick for low income families in 1902.  Education was provided for both children and adults.  Rowntree’s had begun with just 30 employees and by the end of the 19th century it was employing over 40,000. This allowed Rowntree to fund three trusts that cared his workers, campaigned for social reform and undertook research. To this day, the three trusts are still in existance.

Cadbury’s and Rowntree’s Today

With the rise of multinational companies in the 20th century, large family-owned businesses couldn’t compete and so Cadbury’s and Rowntree’s had their Quaker family influence phased out. Cadbury’s was eventually sold to Mondelez International (then Kraft Foods) in 2010 and several years earlier, in 1988, Rowntree’s was sold to Nestlé.

For Cadbury’s and Rowntree’s in the 21st century, their founding by Quakers and their friendly values is little more than a footnote. Fair Trade chocolate is now seen as the confectionery that beast fits Quakerism.


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