Monday, January 24, 2011

Emperors of Chocolate ~ book review

My name is Lauren and I'm a chocoholic.  Actually, I think I was raised to be one, so it's not technically my fault.  My dad instilled a love of all things chocolatey from a very young age and I'm now the owner of perhaps the sweetest tooth ever.  So when I first heard of the book The Emperors of Chocolate by Joel Glenn Brenner I knew that I had to read it.

The Emperors of Chocolate is an in-depth study of the inner workings of the two giants in the American chocolate business:  Hershey and Mars.  This is made all the more interesting when you learn that Mars has only allowed a couple of interviews to be conducted ever since at least the 1960s.  Hershey is almost as secretive but has to release a certain amount of information because they are a publicly held company.

Think of Willy Wonka, but instead of England, it's McLean, Virginia.  Instead of Oompa Loompas who live in the factory, you have factory workers who get to go home, but can't say anything about the company they work for.  Willy Wonka wears eclectic clothes.  Forrest Mars didn't, but he was an odd fellow indeed.  Even his children were denied the luxury of a single M&M because the company needed them to be sold.

Forrest Mars took over the company that makes us our Snickers bars in the 1960s after his father passed away.  Mars also owns a number of other business that shocked me, like Pedigree and Whiskas.  Forrest had his eyes set on world domination of the chocolate industry, and it seems that he has achieved it.  To do this though, he behaved as a tyrant, haraunging his staff, and screaming at them for specks of chocolate on their uniforms.  He was a difficult man to work for, but he was good at what he did.

Then we come to Milton Hershey.  Different in almost every way from Forrest, Milton wanted to create a utopian town centered around a chocolate factory.  He went blindly into making chocolates after selling his caramel company and started throwing ingredients together in an attempt to create milk chocolate.  He ended up being successful and created Hershey, Pennsylvania.  He also created a school for orphans, based in Hershey.  He didn't have his mind set on world domination, only helping out the town he founded and keeping the school going.  That's perhaps why Hershey is known as a non-threat to the world chocolate industry.  Hershey never tried to branch out and adapt their flavors to other countries' tastes.  The world at large views Hershey's chocolate as "barnyard" and "stale", which I would have to agree with.  His town exists now, mostly as a tourist trap, but at least it's a sweet smelling one.  Oh, and nobody is allowed to tour his factory anymore, for fear of secrets getting out.

Overall I think this book was incredibly fun to read.  It's meant as a business book, but the first half reads almost like a novel.  The second half stalled just a bit for me when it got into the nitty gritty of who owns what companies and who was running which sector of which company when.  Other than that, this is well worth the time for anybody who is interested in knowing where our obsession with certain candy bars came about.

I have to go buy some M&Ms now.

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