The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars
by Joel Glenn Brenner
I bought The Emperors of Chocolate because my accounting teacher offered extra credit to any student that read it and wrote up a paper comparing and contrasting the business practices described in the book. I figured it would probably be pretty dull, but hey, chocolate’s cool so it couldn’t be that bad, right? I certainly didn’t expect this book to become one of the most interesting and entertaining reads of the year.
In the United States, the candy market is dominated by two companies: Mars Incorporated and The Hershey Company. You know Hershey as the maker of Kisses, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Kit Kat Bars. Mars pops out M&Ms, Twix, Snickers and Milky Way bars. In 1999, when this book was written, their combined products dominated 75% of the candy rack. Mars is privately owned, and the Mars family puts great priority on protecting their privacy. With their top rival keeping mum on nearly everything, Hershey has also become intensely secretive, even though it’s a publically owned company. Reporter Joel Glenn Brenner spent over ten years on this book, interviewing former employees, combing through Hershey’s archives, and scoring an exclusive interview with elusive members of the Mars family.
It’s a fascinating read. Brenner studies these two chocolate giants and their effect on all fronts, covering their history, marketing, economic impact, social goals, and their products. The book is as much about the chocolates and sweets as the people behind them. It was almost scary to learn just how big Mars is; in addition to the candy line, they also own Uncle Ben’s Rice and Pedigree Petfoods. Likewise, I had known that Hershey, Pennsylvania was where the Hershey factory was located, but I didn’t know that Milton Hershey had also founded and funded a school that provided board and education for disadvantaged youth which is still in operation today. That was pretty cool to learn.
Brenner does an excellent job peeling away the mythology of Willy Wonka and his magical chocolate factory. Marketed as a business book, The Emperors of Chocolate does spend a lot of time talking about the management styles of Hershey and Mars, number-crunching, and failed/successful marketing campaigns. But it’s never boring, even if you haven’t the least bit of interest in business, because the companies are dominated by the personality and goals of the founders, whose influence has not diminished over the years since their deaths.
So, y’know, if you like candy (and who doesn’t?) check this book out. Even though it’s over ten years old, The Emperors of Chocolate still provides a lot of insight into one of the most fascinating industries out there.
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