LONDON (Reuters Life!) - It’s perhaps understandable that Felicity Loudon bristles at the thought of British chocolate maker Cadbury potentially falling into the hands of U.S. foods giant Kraft.
As a member of the fourth generation of the founding family, Loudon remembers her grandfather Egbert Cadbury’s efforts to develop a caring and benevolent company, values she attributes to the family’s Quaker roots.
“Their way of looking at life isn’t all about money, it’s about quality of life and doing good works and I think that’s important,” she said.
Loudon is afraid that Britain will lose a greatly admired symbol of industry and philanthropy if the 10.2 billion pound ($16.85 billion) Kraft initial approach to Cadbury goes ahead as a full takeover.
“I identify them with plastic cheese on hamburgers,” she said of Kraft.
The U.S. makers of Oreo cookies, cheese slices and Toblerone chocolate bars made its approach on September 7, which Cadbury turned down. A Kraft offer will have to be formalized by Monday, the deadline set by the UK Takeover panel to either make a formal bid, or walk away from it for six months.
Loudon, who is in her late 50s, feels strongly that everything her Quaker ancestors strove to build could be lost if the deal goes ahead.
“The Quakers were not about financial gains, they were about the quality of living and helping others and that was their message in life,” said Loudon, who owns and runs an interiors company called The Private House.
Sitting in the cream-colored lounge of her London flat in the British capital’s posh Chelsea neighborhood, Loudon talked of how her great-great-grandfather John Cadbury started the company by opening a tea and coffee shop in Birmingham in 1824.
Seven years later he moved into manufacturing chocolate, an acceptable indulgence which didn’t contravene the strict Quaker beliefs in abstaining from such vices as alcohol.
“It was to be the factory in the garden,” Loudon said of the model Victorian village in Bournville that the company later built for its employees on the outskirts of Birmingham.
“Every single person had a house that had a garden in the front and a vegetable patch behind it and there was an orchard...” Loudon said. “The idea was nobody should ever work or live where a rose cannot grow.
“They cared about their workforce,” she said of the company which invested in education and other public improvements over the years, while creating a global brand that now sells in more than 60 countries.
“It was set up so long ago to revolutionize the working day,” said Loudon who would only say that she owns some Cadbury shares. “The quality of life of the workforce was paramount.”
Loudon and the Cadbury family members now only own a small interest in the firm that bears their name.
But she fears that the legacy of the values espoused by her forebears will disappear, along with jobs, manufacturing and even Cadbury World, the family fun attraction.
“My fear is this will all become history and it will be too late,” she said.
“It’s a piece of England and a piece of what every child longed for,” she said, adding that the Wispa chocolate bar has always been her favorite. She fears the chocolate will be made overseas and cheapened under a Kraft takeover.
“I think the predators are circling,” she said of the Kraft bid. “I think it’s desperately sad that yet another British icon could go abroad.”
Loudon said she has approached family members, councilors in the central English city of Birmingham about the takeover and believes the British public would get behind a movement to keep Cadbury British.
She said her grandfather, a World War One flying ace who doted on her and used to send chocolates to her at school, would be outraged even by the thought of such a takeover.
“My grandfather would be turning in his grave if he knew this was happening.”
(Editing by Paul Casciato)