The History of Cadbury’s Company Culture
You might not think that there’s a lot one can learn about company culture from an almost 200-year-old organisation. Yeah, that’s right, Cadbury is almost two centuries old. So, of course, you are wondering what could an organisation that has been around for that long, teach about company culture!
You won’t be too far off the mark with that thought, there are a lot of examples of organisations becoming less agile as they got older and bigger. That’s what makes Cadbury stand out even more. It’s a company that started focusing on employee well-being and social impact long before it became trendy, cool and eventually, necessary.
Hot chocolate drink to hot cocoa that you know today
Cadbury’s history is fascinating because even at its beginning, it started as a socially responsible store. Cadbury was started on the three foundational influences: Quaker ethic, experience turning around a failing business and knowledge of the social issue afflicting an industrial city.
The Start of the Cadbury’s Culture
Too often I hear people asking and wondering how do businesses that started small keep their culture and keep it intact as they grow? Does the culture come in the way of growth, and profits or can culture and growth go hand in hand?
For Cadbury, the culture stemmed from their faith and their belief in social welfare. The indulgent chocolates had very non-indulgent and humble beginnings.
The first Cadbury store was started by John Cadbury but it is the tenure of Richard and George Cadbury that had been the most formative and influential on the company’s culture. Richard and George were brothers and when they inherited the store from their father, it was on the brink of failure.
In 1861, Richard and George took over the business and poured all their inheritance into turning it around and by 1864, they started showing a modest profit. To do this, they moved away from selling tea, coffee and cocoa to focusing only on one product. Chocolate. Once they moved their focus to one product, they realised that it wasn’t very good.
George Cadbury is known to have called their cocoa “comforting gruel” – ouch! But it’s that honesty and critical assessment of their weaknesses that led them to invest in learning and adopting innovative methods that resulted in the launch of the revolutionary Dutch method of creating Cocoa Essence.
It’s not just their business that benefited from the self-examination, their employees and workers did too. From their earliest days, Cadbury had a deep understanding and empathy for issues that workers faced. So much so that Cadbury’s chocolate drink was meant to attract people away from the problems of alcohol.
Even the development of Cadbury’s Bournville factory was a result of this understanding. The brothers didn’t just set up shop in Bournville, they purchased the land in the area and developed residential homes there so that the workers could easily move away from Birmingham, which, without a decent place to live would have been hard.
Cadbury wasn’t just winning customers’ hearts with their chocolates, it was also gaining workers’ loyalty and trust.
However, they understood that their efforts alone could not help the workers and that government’s support was necessary. The problem of wages, pension and poverty could only be solved if the government took necessary actions and they backed all such initiatives of the government.
The Growth of Cadbury’s Culture
As the next generation of Cadbury took over the business, they continued to promote the company culture. Employees were encouraged to get educated and become eligible for technical training and jobs requiring better skills. Probably one the earliest companies to offer education and training perks!
The employees who were trained and educated had better promotion opportunities since Cadbury believed in promoting internally. All of these steps taken by Cadbury were driven by the deep desire to support and encourage people who helped the company grow.
The Cadbury values aren’t just goals, they are practised in every aspect of Cadbury’s business. From workers to directors, everyone not just knows them but also embodies them.
Moving away from its roots
In 2010, Kraft Foods (now Mondelez) took over Cadbury in a hostile takeover. Even before the takeover happened, various leaders at Cadbury warned that a takeover by Kraft was likely to result in dilution or a complete overhaul of its culture and values. Unfortunately, that’s precisely what happened.
After the acquisition, Kraft backtracked from many of the promises that were made to Cadbury prior to the purchase. The acquisition was so unpopular that the entire original management of Cadbury decided to quit. The years following saw a sharp decline in profits as did the company culture.
As was feared by many, the acquisition of Cadbury resulted in a loss of its values and what made it special, which impacted its bottom line. As is commonly the case, most leaders pay very little attention and give very little importance to the company culture until the negative culture starts to hurt the company’s performance.
So was the case with Mondelez’s Cadbury. After years of dipping performance, they began closing factories in developed nations and moved operations to the developing “advantage” countries – a move that was completely against the beliefs of Cadbury.
Going Against Cadbury Values
Despite a history of strong company culture and workplace ethics, Cadbury’s has continued to come under scrutiny for its misaligned behaviour that appears to destroy the very values it was built upon.
While they’ve continued to try and come across as a brand with heart, with various global marketing campaigns and philanthropic pledges, all have done little to help the brand overcome its turbulent years under Mondelez.
In April 2022, a Channel 4 Dispatches investigation discovered that children were working on Cocoa farms that supply Mondelez.
During the documentary, children with machetes were filmed opening cocoa pods, weeding the plantations, and not wearing any protective clothing.
One child revealed to the filmmakers that she had sliced open her foot while using a long machete.
This shocking revelation comes two decades after the chocolate industry pledged to eliminate child labour.
A Mondelēz International spokesperson said: “We’re deeply concerned by the incidents documented in the Dispatches programme. We explicitly prohibit child labour in our operations and have been working relentlessly to take a stand against this, making significant efforts through our Cocoa Life programme to improve the protection of children in the communities where we source cocoa, including in Ghana.”
It’s disappointing for a company that has a heritage of being mindful of the social impact, employee wellbeing, inclusion and generosity, to see that these values only come into action when it suits their PR or marketing, and are not taken into account when it comes to the way they operate.
What Cadbury’s Company Culture Can Teach Us
Cadbury began with the belief that chocolate could make the world a better place, as an alternative to alcohol and issues that excessive alcohol use brought. Bournville continued to be a part of this social experiment where the employees were as good as family and on a first-name basis with the founder. Cadbury created a culture of giving back to the community, running the business with ethics and benign capitalism.
Unfortunately, that culture no longer exists. And instead as with many large corporations, profit over purpose and people now prevails.
Loss of culture impacts brand reputation
The new corporate culture of Cadbury proves that a brand loses its integrity when it begins to act and behave outsides of its values.
When there is now huge market of disruptors in the chocolate industry who are changing the way things are done in order to be fair and safe for all, it calls into question whether the brand can remain relevant to conscious consumers who don’t want their purchases going towards ethical brands.
The brand reputation of Cadbury has continued to be tarnished since its take over by Mondelez, and it seems a brand that stood the test of time for so long, may now need a serious rethink as to how it moves forward.
Businesses with a culture built around community and society, thrive.
If we look back at what Cadbury built in the beginning – this is where we can really take the lesson.
Businesses built with people in mind, thrive. This has become especially true in post Covid-19 era. More people want to work for, with, and buy from businesses whose cultures are based in the community and employee welfare – something that Cadbury began decades ago.
It if wasn’t for the way they began Cadbury, it wouldn’t be the brand we know today.