Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Cadbury's: Everyone's (apparently) a Fruit & Nut Case

A lot has been written in the last few days about Kraft’s takeover of Cadbury’s. Indeed, if I hear an American accent calling it “Cad – berry” once more I’ll not be responsible for my actions…….

It is truly the end of an era and all that. But people can wring their hands as much as they like. Cadbury’s shareholders were free to dispose of their shares as they liked…….so 71% of them did. Given the immediate offer of cash, I for one am impressed that as many as 29% of the shares were in the hands of people who still voted against it.

Of course you could argue that the UK should have rules that restrict this sort of hostile take-over. Remember, Cadbury’s wasn’t LDV or Rover. It wasn’t a “basket case”. It’s successful, not in need of investment or help and didn’t want to be taken over. But once you’re a plc in the UK you are very much prey to this sort of thing. When you stop and think about it, it’s like the lunatics running the asylum.

I’m petty sure that in the short term little will change. Indeed, if you work for Cadbury’s at Keynsham, you might think this is a Good Thing as Cadbury’s were planning to close that plant and Kraft have said they’ll keep it open. In the medium to long term, though, things might not look so good, in Keynsham or in Birmingham.

The problem with all this can be summed up in three words: Terry’s of York. Kraft have “form” when it comes to buying UK confectionery firms and then shipping production somewhere cheaper.

Cadbury’s brand is strong. The chocolate is the best in the world (as I was explaining to some Swiss visitors only last year…….) and evidently it’s a product “worth having”. Indeed, Kraft seem to have taken a big financial risk themselves to get their hands on Cadbury’s.

I don’t think they’ll do it soon. But I have a distinct feeling that in the medium to long term, things will be irresistibly different. My fear is that in ten years’ time Crème Eggs will come from Bratislava and the Bournville Village Trust will be worried that a giant IKEA is rising up overlooking the village green on the “Dairy Milk Enterprise Park”. If I’m wrong about this, no-one will be more pleased than me.

I think I’ll go and get some Dairy Milk now, while I can still do so without the guilt.

Incidentally, it’s worthwhile mentioning that none of this affects in any way the Garden Village of Bournville which, surprising to many, does not and never has belonged to Cadbury’s. George Cadbury set it up (with commendable foresight) as an independent charitable trust. Indeed, many of the things that are being bandied around as “special” at the moment pertain to the community of Bournville, rather than the factory.

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