Sweets and chocolate bars must be as evocative of past times as smells or music. One of the first errands I ever ran was when my granny sent me for a bar of ‘Caddy Pep’(Cadbury’s Peppermint Cream) and my vocabulary was given an early boost by all those long words experienced by Fry’s Five Boys. Remember them? A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to run into someone who probably knows more about Cadbury and Fry’s joint history than anyone on the planet and who has luckily put it all in a book packed with fascinating memories and mouth-watering illustrations.
I’m delighted that John Bradley is here today to talk about Fry’s Chocolate Dream: the Rise and Fall of a Chocolate Empire. And don’t ignore the timing – if you know anyone who loves chocolate and /or history (local history for us Bristolians) this would make a fab Christmas present!
Writing the story of J.S. Fry & Sons.
The idea to write the Fry’s story came to me as early as 2006 when I was doing the research for my first book, Cadbury’s Purple Reign. In writing the story, I was very conscious that as a “Cadbury man”(I worked for them for twenty-four years) and author of a book on Cadbury’s, I had to make a special effort to take myself out of that mindset and put myself in the shoes of Joseph Fry, Anna Fry, Joseph Storrs Fry, Francis Fry, Joseph Storrs Fry II, Roderick Fry, Cecil Fry and Major Egbert Cadbury (the men and lady who ran the company throughout its history), and tell the story from their perspective, so this is unashamedly a Fry’s book!
The title: Fry’s Chocolate Dream: The Rise and Fall of a Chocolate Empire, encapsulated the story I wanted to tell: not just the “what happened”, but the “why and the how”. How did J.S Fry & Sons become the world’s largest manufacturer of cocoa and chocolate, a position they still held at the outbreak of the First World War? Why, just a few years later, had they been reduced to effectively being a vassal state of Cadbury Bros? Just how bad for both firms was the amalgamation between Fry’s and Cadbury’s? Why, after Fry’s had just successfully completed one of the largest industrial relocations in Britain, did Cadbury’s arbitrarily force the liquidation of J.S. Fry & Sons? How did Fry’s, by then under the leadership of a renegade son of George Cadbury, completely re-invent itself during and after the Second World War to become Britain’s most vibrant chocolate company? What was the real story behind the closure of Somerdale? And why today can you find tins of Fry’s cocoa in Captain Scott’s Antarctic supply base and on Canadian grocery shelves? It is a far more fascinating and surprising story than I had imagined.
It is too easy when writing history to fall into the trap of seeing outcomes we already know about as having been inevitable or pre-ordained: i.e. that Cadbury’s would triumph over Fry’s. But I found the reasons behind Fry’s meteoric growth and then eclipse by Cadbury’s to be far more complex and nuanced. Complacency; lack of innovation in both products and management; dysfunctional management at key times; the Union Street location in the centre of Bristol; even a poor succession planning that prompted sale of shares to the public in 1912 all played key roles in Fry’s demise.
The book ended up at 190 pages, and large pages at that (11” x 8.5”), firstly to do justice to the many superb images and secondly because Amazon’s print-on-demand costs are driven entirely by page count irrespective of size, so naturally I plumped for the largest available size! It is available on Amazon.co.uk and priced at £19.95 (or less! – ed.)
As well as being a chocolate expert, John has published a humorous self-help book on living with Crohn’s disease called The Foul Bowel, which was a top-three seller on Amazon in the Crohn’s disease category for over 18 months. He now lives in Canada but his books are all available via Amazon UK. In fact I picked up a copy of Fry’s on Amazon for quite a bit less than the RRP – so head over now to get a bargain!