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The great transatlantic chocolate divide

Cadbury's chocolate

By Emily Purser
BBC News Magazine

There's speculation the US confectionery giant Hershey plans to bid for Cadbury. But is there a transatlantic sweet tooth divide, and might we end up with more "American-tasting" chocolate?

Chocolate maker Cadbury is defending itself against a £10bn hostile takeover bid from the American produce giant Kraft Foods. The British firm has urged shareholders to reject Kraft's bid, and is now in talks with fellow confectioner Hershey, with which it has business links.

But why should we care?

Brits love chocolate. We munched through £3.5bn worth of the stuff last year. So it is no wonder the prospect of an American takeover of a company considered by many to be our chocolate-maker in chief, is souring taste buds on this side of the Atlantic.

People get very patriotic about chocolate
Tim Richardson

British contemporary tastes in chocolate date back to the early 1900s.

The Cadbury favourite, Dairy Milk, was first produced in 1905 and has remained relatively unchanged ever since. Chocolate, more than most foods, provokes an emotional response and childhood memories make us loyal to brands, says Tim Richardson, author of Sweets: A History of Temptation.

As a nation, we hold these loyalties dear, and have a "long and distinguished history with chocolate", says Sarah Jayne Stanes, director of the Academy of Culinary Arts.

As a result, Brits have become "snobbish" about their guilty pleasure, says Ms Stanes, and this fostered an intense chocolate patriotism that could be threatened by an American takeover.

And for many a loyal British chocoholic the word "Hershey" will set the alarm bells ringing.

Grittier

Anyone who has performed a chocolate taste test will know that compared with its British counterpart, American chocolate has a distinctly different flavour. To many, Hershey's chocolate has a more bitter, less creamy taste than its British equivalent, and seems to have a grittier texture.

It all comes down to what exactly chocolate is.

In the UK, chocolate must contain at least 20% cocoa solids. In the US, on the other hand, cocoa solids need only make up 10%.

A Cadbury Dairy Milk bar contains 23% cocoa solids, whereas a Hershey bar contains just 11%.

Hershey's chocolate
US chocolate has 10% cocoa solids

Much of Europe would scoff at either definition. The continental preference is for richer, darker chocolate, with a significantly higher cocoa solid count. Many European chocolatiers make chocolate with upwards of 40% cocoa solids, a world away from our elevenses bar from the newsagent.

But the cocoa content isn't the only thing which separates British chocolate from its American namesake.

The chocolate making process differs from the grinding of the first bean. Though confectioners keep their recipes a firm secret, it is believed that American chocolate typically uses South American beans, whilst British makers favour West African cocoa.

There are also variations on the type of powdered milk used, which can impact the flavour.

A typical Hershey bar also has more sugar than a bar of Dairy Milk, and, crucially perhaps, its ingredients list contains the additive PGPR, which can act in place of the more expensive cocoa butter.

American candy bars are typically cheaper than in Britain, which might go some way to explaining the differences.

Pod to palate

But with a Hershey takeover of Cadbury a possibility, could the Americans view the UK as a potential market for its own brand of chalky-tasting chocolate?

Mr Richardson says sweet-toothed Brits should relax - the likelihood of America dabbling with Britain's tried and trusted confectionery tastes are remote.

Another expert, David Jago, of consumer research analysts Mintel, says there may not be much to gain by marketing Hershey in the UK, as "many UK consumers have relatively little idea what US chocolate brands such as Hershey's taste like".

Rather, a Hershey takeover could lead the Americans to take advantage of Cadbury's international presence, says Mr Jago.

The American trip from pod to palate is altogether different than in the UK. But for now Cadbury remains in British hands, and our chocolate will remain just as we like it.



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