• Is this Australia's top choc? (Getty Images / Matt Cardy)Source: Getty Images / Matt Cardy
What bar rules the chocolate factory?
Kylie Walker

6 Apr 2020 - 6:29 PM  UPDATED 8 Apr 2020 - 2:16 PM

If you had to guess which chocolate is Australia’s number one brand, would you pick Cherry Ripe? Freddo Frog? Kit Kat? Or the “glass and a half” classic Dairy Milk?

If you opted for answer number four, award yourself a suitably chocolatey prize.

We Aussies like our chocolate – and we’re eating more and more of it. The local market is worth about $3 billion a year and projected to grow to more than $4.3 billion by 2023. And top of the pile is chocolate that was invented in 1905 as a weapon in a chocolate war, given a revival by a drum-playing gorilla and that even has its own Pantone colour.

Cadbury Dairy Milk – the chocolate that boasts “a glass and a half of full-cream milk in every 200g block” – is the ruler of the chocolate world here in Australia. The 50g Cadbury Dairy Milk tops the list of our favourite chocolate bars  (Kit Kat, Cherry Ripe, Mars Bars and Snickers round out the top five). The Dairy Milk brand is a global winner, too. But how did it get there?

To give you a taste, here are five fun facts (and a bonus) about Cadbury's history that surprised even the chocolate lovers amongst us here at SBS Food. 

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory author Roald Dahl was a schoolboy chocolate taster

As a schoolboy at boarding school in the 1930s, the author of the enormously popular children’s book and a group of his fellow students were sent some very tempting packages by Cadbury: boxes of different bars that the business was thinking of adding to its lineup, along with sheets of paper for Dahl and the other boys to give each bar a score and record their comments. Later, this would help inspire the marvellous, magical factory Dahl dreamed up.

“What Roald had realised was that with these new bars coming through somewhere in the Cadbury factory there must be an inventing room for chocolate. Somewhere some terrifically clever people were thinking about ‘how can we make a more exciting chocolate bar?’,” Steve Gardam, the directory of the Roald Dahl Museum, says in the Secrets of the Chocolate Factory: Inside Cadbury documentary. And yes, there is an inventing room at Cadbury! There are folk who play with chocolate and dream about new creations for a living. “There’s lots of Willy Wonkas here in Bournville,” says one of them, Dave Shepherd – Bournville being the town where Cadbury was born in the UK back in 1824.  Shepherd, a senior research and innovation manager of Cadbury's parent company Mondelez, is one of only a select group who knows the exact recipe for Dairy Milk.

It all started with a Quaker businessman

John Cadbury was a man with a vision. He was from a wealthy family but, the documentary says, it was the Quaker businessman’s religious beliefs that prompted him to start a chocolate business. As Deborah Cadbury - a documentary maker, historian, author of Chocolate Wars, and as the name suggests, a member of the family – explains, John Cadbury had visions of helping the poor of Birmingham in a novel way. Alcoholism was a big problem in the city in the 1860s and he set out to give them a nutritious alternative.

“He thought that cocoa would be that alternative because cocoa had a reputation as a health drink,” Deborah Cadbury says. His cocoa essence, launched in 1866, proved a success and helped turn a small family business into what would become a huge global business, spanning 40 countries around the world.  

One bar to rule them all

After the cocoa essence came chocolate bars, first made by Cadbury in 1897, but these were far what we think of as chocolate today. Indeed, Cadbury’s own website says that “By today's standards the chocolate wasn't particularly good - it was very coarse and dry and neither sweet nor milky enough.” The turn of the century saw the company forced to do plenty of work in the inventing room, as a much-superior Swiss product entered the UK chocolate market. It was a chocolate war and Cadbury came up with a very effective weapon: Cadbury Dairy Milk.

Launched in 1905, it proved so popular that in the UK, Cadbury makes up to 350 tonnes of it every single day. Factory lines run 24 hours a day to keep up with demand. In Australia, Cadbury Dairy Milk is the top-selling chocolate brand in value terms, accounting for 17 per cent of what we spend on confectionary*.

The original is just one member of a family of more than 40 different Dairy Milk products, including  27 variations on the classic Dairy Milk block, Dark Milk variations and of course Freddo, Caramello Koala and Furry Friends.

Now, we like a list here at SBS, so we asked Cadbury Australia if they’d tell us what the most popular Dairy Milk flavours are. And we’ll admit it, we were surprised by the answer.

The classic no-additions Dairy Milk is number one. OK, not such a surprise. But would you have picked Dairy Milk Hazelnut as number two? It wasn’t our guess, but indeed it is. Top Deck comes in at number three, followed by Caramello and Fruit & Nut.   

A gorilla saved the day

How many of you remember this:

This risky – but hugely successful ad – came about because Cadbury had a problem. As the documentary recounts, in 2006, a leaking pipe in one of its UK factories lead to salmonella contamination of several Cadbury products. At least 40 people fell ill and the company had to recall more than a million chocolate bars.

It was a staggering blow for a trusted brand, and sales dropped by 14 per cent.

Cadbury could have laid low and hoped sales recovered. Instead, they went for a gorilla. “I wanted an ad that was as enjoyable to consume as a bar of Cadbury chocolate,” says Cadbury’s marketing director at the time, Phil Rumbol. “I remember after seeing or hearing this script just grinning like a school kid.” Rumbol’s bosses initially thought he was mad, but he was proven right: The drum-playing gorilla proved so popular in the UK that Cadbury aired the ad in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa. 

The colour purple

The shade of purple we associate with Cadbury has its own Pantone colour reference number: Pantone 2685C. But there’s a legal stoush going on about whether the company can trademark its particular shade of purple and have exclusive use of it for a wide range of products.

Biggest bar none

One last fun fact for those keen chocolate eaters who are keeping up Australia’s consumption averages –  in 1988 Cadbury made what was the largest moulded bar in the world, a giant 1.1-tonne Dairy Milk block that was more than 2.5 metres tall. Cadbury reckons it would take an average person 120 years to eat a bar that big. The current Guinness World record for the largest bar by weight is held by a massive 5.7 tonne, the four-metre-long bar created in the UK in 2011 by another chocolate maker, Thorntons. And a team from Slovenia holds the record for the largest chocolate bar by area, a 142-square-metre bar created in 2016. We have no idea how long it took to eat that one, but we imagine they had plenty of volunteers.

* Source: Nielsen, MAT February 2018  

This Easter SBS delivers a sweet treat with The Chocolate Factory: Inside Cadbury Australia which premieres Saturday, April 11 on SBS at 7:30pm. The program will be encored Sunday, April 12 on SBS VICELAND at 3:35pm.

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