Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Emperors of Chocolate, by Joël Glenn Brenner

The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars, by Joël Glenn Brenner

This examination of the world of “big chocolate” was fascinating. I was shocked to find out both how massive these corporations are, and how few of them exist. “M&M’s alone generate more revenue than Camel cigarettes or Maxwell House coffee. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, the nation’s No. 3 brand (owned by Hershey), outsells such well-known products as Advil and Ivory Soap. ... Mars is bigger than such corporate giants as RJR Nabisco, McDonald’s and Kellogg.” There are really only four major players in the mass-market candy industry: Mars, Hershey, Cadbury, and Nestlé. In America Mars and Hershey rule the candy aisle, with a staggering number of recognizable treats belonging to them. Mars owns M&M’s, Milky Way, 3 Musketeers, Snickers, Dove Chocolate, Twix, Kudos, Skittles, Starburst, and the entire Wrigley Company (not to mention Banfield—The Pet Hospital, Whiskas, Pedigree, and Uncle Ben’s Rice). Hershey has all the various incarnations of the Hershey Bar and Kisses, as well as Symphony, Special Dark, Krackel, Mr. Goodbar, 5th Avenue, Almond Joy, Mounds, Heath, Kit Kat, Milk Duds, Reese’s, Whoppers, Jolly Rancher, PayDay, Bubble Yum, Breath Savers, and Twizzlers. These companies are surprisingly secretive as well; recipes and costs are obviously important trade secrets, but the Mars corporation wouldn’t even confirm the founder had ever worked for the company after his death!

The author does an effective job of describing the mysteries of chocolate; many people believe the taste is so complicated that it rivals scotch and wine to sophisticated palates. Odd words such as “mouthfeel” are commonly used, and the descriptions of how subtle differences in ingredients can have a huge impact on the resulting flavor were quite interesting. Learning about how the industry has grown from being simply large kitchens to modern factories in just the last 100 years was also captivating. For instance, in the Hershey factory before automation, “workers were known to pick up a Kiss, lick the bottom, dab it on the pile of tissues, then deposit that on the foil and twist. Not exactly sanitary, but fast.” This book is more than just a simple case study; it is an enthralling tale that I didn’t want to put down.

First Sentence:
Theo Leenders hadn’t moved from his desk all day.

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