Book review: The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars

Hershey's Chocolate Bar

The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and MarsThe Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars
by Joël Glenn Brenner
Published by Broadway Books (January 4, 2000)
Buy it at: Amazon

The best trivia

  • Forrest Mars learned how to make chocolate by becoming a spy. He posed as an ordinary factory worker as he learned the secrets of European chocolate. In addition to spying on Henri Nestlé, he also went to the factory of Jean Tobler, who invented the Toblerone.
  • Hershey, PA was supposed to be called Hersheykoko. A woman from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania won a contest to name the town with her suggestion of Hersheykoko, because at the time Hershey’s cocoa was more popular than its bars. The postmaster said Hersheykoko was too commercial, however, and the name was shortened to Hershey, Pennsylvania.
  • The Hershey bar was still a nickel in 1969, the same price it had in 1900. Consumers were shocked by the increase in price and sales fell 30 percent. In the past, the company dealt with increased costs by reducing the bar in size (by 1969, it had almost been halved).
  • Milton Hershey served as constable, fire chief, and mayor of his company town. Executive offices were installed on Chocolate Avenue, and a giant sign reading Hershey Cocoa was spelled with ornamental shrubs.

The secret world of chocolate is more serious than you could imagine

Who knew Willy Wonka was such a realistic character?

The most lasting impression of The Emperors of Chocolate may be that the world of chocolate is nearly as magical, mysterious, and intriguing as the world that children imagine. Brenner’s thorough look at the industry includes rare interviews and behind-the-scenes peeks at the history of big chocolate companies. From the beatific Milton Hershey (who started an orphanage) to the businesslike Mars family (which probably would have been as happy selling widgets as chocolate bars), the characters in the candy industry make this book shine. You’ll never look at an M&M the same way.

Chocolate is a cold, hard, secretive business, but reading about it is still delicious. The book is packed with stories you won’t find anywhere else, and the espionage makes it sweeter. After all, Willy Wonka’s secrecy in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was based on spying battles between the Cadbury and Rowntree chocolate families. It’s great to learn about the chocolate wars without the threat of singing Oompa-Loompas.

What the book is

Emperors of Chocolate focuses on the business of chocolate, from the invention of new candies to the battles between chocolate empires. Mars and Hershey are the focus.

What the book isn’t

Emperors of Chocolate isn’t the gooey stuff—you won’t find childhood reminiscences or odes to candy here. It’s a serious journalistic work. In addition, those looking to learn about European companies like Nestlé or Tobler might want to add other books to their reading list.

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