The Pursuit of Pure Chocolate: Cadbury’s Rise to Power

Throughout the 19th Century, the demand for chocolate in the UK and around the world was ever increasing, with far more of its consumption being performed by the masses. This rise in demand led to a large increase in the amount of adulteration present in the production of chocolate. These high levels of adulteration eventually led to the passing of multiple food acts in the UK, and, more importantly, a demand by the public for pure, unadulterated chocolate products. I believe it can be argued that the rise and fall of chocolate adulteration in the 1800’s was critical to the growth of Cadbury from a small business to a worldwide company, and, thus, was a key factor in shaping the chocolate industry we see today.

The rising demand for chocolate during the early stages of the 18th century made it a very attractive industry for immoral producers and merchants in the UK as well as in many other countries. In France, for example, it is said that around the time of the monarchy restoration in 1815, chocolate was being adulterated with foods such as powdered dried peas and potato starch, making its production cheaper (Coe, 243). At this time, it was feared that adulteration was not only occurring in chocolate but also in other foods and medicines, with some of the adulterants possibly being poisonous (British Library).

Taken from the British magazine ‘Punch’ in 1858, this cartoon shows a medicine being adulterated with Plaster of Paris and Arsenic. It reflects the fear in the UK of adulteration during this time period.
Taken from the British magazine ‘Punch’ in 1858, this cartoon shows a medicine being adulterated with Plaster of Paris and Arsenic. It reflects the fear in the UK of adulteration during this time period.

Eventually, after increased suspicion of adulteration in the production of multiple goods in the country, the British Government decided to take action in 1850 with the creation of a health commission for the analysis of foods, which was operated by ‘The Lancet’, a British medical journal. The results of the analysis were presented with great detail in ‘Food: Adulterations and Methods for their Detection’ by Arthur Hassall. They confirmed the suspicions of many that a high number of foods, including chocolate, involved adulteration within their production process. Out of the 70 samples of chocolate taken in the UK, it was said that at least 39 of them contained traces of ground bricks used to alter the colour of the product. Furthermore, samples were also found to contain potato starch and, in some cases, animal fat, which was used as a substitute for cocoa butter (Hassall).

With the level of discontent amongst the public growing, especially with the newly produced results from the ‘The Lancet’, the British government took a stand against food adulteration with the British Food and Drug Act in 1860 and the Adulteration of Food Act in 1872. This led to an increase in the knowledge of food adulteration amongst the public and thus a sharp rise in the demand for pure, unadulterated foods, including pure chocolate (Coe, 245). Because of this, many chocolate companies faced high pressure to rid adulteration from their production process, and Cadbury, which at the time was a relatively small business, fully capitalised on this opportunity (Cadbury).

Initially admitting to the fact that they had previously adulterated their chocolate with starch and flour, Cadbury used the rising demand for pure foods to advertise their new ‘Cocoa Essence’ product, which made chocolate via the use of the cocoa press invented by Coenraad Johannes Van Houten. The cocoa press reduced the amount of cocoa butter in the chocolate, meaning that adulterations did not have to be made to counteract the taste of it. In 1866, Cadbury was the first chocolate company in the UK to use this technique, and thus the only company that produced unadulterated chocolate. Using this fact to their advantage, Cadbury focused on the purity of their product when advertising ‘Cocoa Essence’, using the now iconic slogan ‘absolutely pure, therefore the best’ (Cadbury). Due to high demand for pure foods, this marketing campaign led to a rapid increase in sales for Cadburys, whilst other, bigger companies such as Fry & Sons, suffered, as they did not have the technology or time to produce mass amounts of unadulterated chocolate (Coe, 245).

An advertisement by Cadbury for their  ‘Cocoa Essence’ from 1897. It shows how they treated the purity of their chocolate as its main marketing tool in the late 1800’s
An advertisement by Cadbury for their ‘Cocoa Essence’ from 1897. It shows how they treated the purity of their chocolate as its main marketing tool in the late 1800’s

By 1897, Cadbury’s chocolate sales had surpassed those of the previously superior Fry & Sons, making it the largest chocolate distributor in the UK (Coe, 245). Today, Cadbury is one of the biggest chocolate company’s in the world, famous for its ‘Dairy Milk’ chocolate bar, and highly influential in terms of both the production and tastes seen in todays chocolate industry (Cadbury). Thus, it can be said that the increase of food adulteration and eventual government intervention to prevent it in 19th century Britain was highly influential to the chocolate industry we see today, as without it, there would not have been a high demand for pure, unadulterated chocolate, and Cadbury may have remained a small business instead of the worldwide industry leader that it has become.

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