This week saw the takeover of Cadbury by Kraft Foods. Cadbury is another name in the lengthening line of British household names disappearing from the corporate scene. While there is no room for sentimentality in business (as one UK bank chief executive memorable once said to me) the move does give cause for thinking through the rationale and the likely outcome of the merger. Most commentators agree that the financial benefits to Kraft are potentially significant, helping it reach international markets it has not been able to penetrate successfully so far. Clearly, it adds some major brands, of which Cadbury is obviously the foremost, to its portfolio.
It also seems that little interest in being paid to the Cadbury corporate brand, the company with a history and culture that made it distinctive and gave it a reputation for fairness with its employees and in its business practices. While there is little doubt that Cadbury exploited its suppliers of cocoa way back, it also practiced enlightened philanthropy towards its employees. The whole notion of Bournville, quaint though it seems today, was a concept ahead of its time. It was the last surviving chocolate company founded by Quakers; Rowntree’s and Fry’s being devoured long ago.
As deals are increasingly done at a purely short-term financial level, and brands change hands scarcely without a blink, the passing of corporate entities and their cultures goes unremarked. One of the objectives of the corporate identity ‘movement’, if I can call it that, was to project internally and externally the true nature and worth of the business ethos. Companies like IBM became classics of this paradigm.
With Kraft’s takeover, it will be interesting to see how the cultures will blend, if at all. The idea that anything of the Cadbury ethos will remain seems unlikely , as the two cultures appear to have little in common; just a case of the difference between ‘choc and cheese’ perhaps.