Bruce and the chocolate factory

Bruce Smith has an unusual job. IHe is the Cadbury archivist and Historian at the Ringwwod factory. Pictured here with some classic advertisements and chocolate boxes from the company's history. 19th January 2018. Photo by Jason South
Bruce Smith has an unusual job. IHe is the Cadbury archivist and Historian at the Ringwwod factory. Pictured here with some classic advertisements and chocolate boxes from the company's history. 19th January 2018. Photo by Jason South

Poring over the photographs, vintage advertisements and trinkets in the Cadbury archive, Bruce Smith is swept back to childhood.

"I'm old enough to remember a cardboard display box on the shelf of a milk bar and unwrapped Freddo frogs sitting on glassine paper one on top of the other," Smith says.

"The shopkeeper would pick it up with his fingers and put it in a bag for you.

"Cadbury also used to produce a lot of Christmas stockings and I can remember as a kid an uncle would always give me a Christmas gift, plus a Cadbury's stocking with a selection of chocolate bars."

Smith is the archivist at Mondelez International, which owns Cadbury, and spends his days compiling the company's history, the rich smell of chocolate wafting into his nondescript office, metres from the factory floor at the plant in Ringwood, Melbourne.

The 67-year-old, who has a long career in academia and the public service, joyfully rattles off Cadbury anecdotes: the Freddo Frog was originally going to be a mouse; there was once a mysterious product called Crunch Foam; Tasmania was chosen as the site for its first Australian factory because of its proximity to a fresh milk supply and its cool, chocolate-friendly weather.

The Cadbury archive spans more than a century and does more than keep company records - it pieces together the story of the brand and its place in Australian life.

"If you look at the '30s and '40s through to the '50s, it's very much family-focused advertisements, like the benefits of having a hot cup of cocoa before you go to bed, and keeping warm on a winter's night," Smith says.

Bruce Smith has an unusual job. IHe is the Cadbury archivist and Historian at the Ringwwod factory. Pictured here with some classic advertisements and chocolate boxes from the company's history. 19th January 2018. Photo by Jason South

Bruce Smith has an unusual job. IHe is the Cadbury archivist and Historian at the Ringwwod factory. Pictured here with some classic advertisements and chocolate boxes from the company's history. 19th January 2018. Photo by Jason South

"During the war years, there was a lot of advertising saying the business's first priority was the troops. Some things were in short supply in the Australian marketplace because Cadbury were providing cocoa, chocolate and barley sugar to the armed services and the Red Cross.

"Now it's more about activities within your community, like tennis or Australian Rules football, rather than about family."

Generations of Australians have eaten Cadbury chocolate. MacRobertson's confectionery, acquired by Cadbury in the 1960s, created the Cherry Ripe in 1924 and the Freddo Frog in 1930. Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate blocks were launched in 1928, and Roses chocolates wrapped in shiny foil came along 10 years later

Most of the items in the archive come from the Australian and British factories, but donations from history buffs occasionally turn up in the mail.

One such item is a century-old folding ruler measuring inches and advertising Fry's, a brand that merged with Cadbury in the early 1900s.

"That would have to be my favourite item - just the fact that it's in such good condition after more than 110 years.

"It's quirky as well. You wonder why somebody marketing chocolate and cocoa would be offering to give away a ruler."

Childhood nostalgia is a common theme in Smith's job, which often requires him to respond to public inquiries about favourite products.

Smith chuckles as he recounts the history of the Freddo frog, which are eaten in their millions each year.

"Freddo was going to be a mouse to start off with, then someone said 'No, that's not a good idea people don't want to eat mice!', so then he became a frog."

Last week Smith dug into the archive for a member of the public curious about the fate of a sweet called the Europe Strength Bar.

"I think something sparks a memory, whether it's something on the television or sitting around the dinner table talking.

"People are usually looking for something from the '70s or the '80s. Sometimes I think they've been to a trivia quiz and there's been a question and they dispute the answer."

Smith discovered the story of Thomas Elford Edwards while recently reading a Cadbury historical document from the 1930s.

Popular history says Cadbury launched in Australia when the Claremont factory opened in 1922, but Smith discovered Edwards was working for the company in Melbourne from 1881.

Edwards was Cadbury's first "traveller", sent from England to Melbourne to take chocolate and cocoa orders.

"He was going door-to-door just with his order pad.

"It would have been a brand that [the British] recognised and I'm sure the marketing was reminding people of that."

An advertisement printed in the Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser in December 1885 showed an illustration of a couple drinking a cup of cocoa under the line "Drink Cadbury's Cocoa: Guaranteed Pure and Soluable".

In a letter from Edwards detailing his Australian business, written in delicate cursive, he describes himself as "rather anxious" about his orders .

From Edwards' story, Smith is trying to identify every person who worked for Cadbury in its early years.

Away from work, Smith scans op-shops for old chocolate tins to add to the archive. Over Christmas, he found a 1940s box for MacRobertson's Crunch Foam, and bought it for $6.

The contents of Crunch Foam remain a mystery, but the chocolates were included in a variety pack, marketed with an illustration of a lean female pirate brandishing a sword.

A recipe printed in the Southern Districts Advocate in 1933 suggests Crunch Foam might have been a chocolate with honeycomb pieces.

It's these kinds of little discoveries that delight Smith.

"When you're born it's documented, when you get married it's documented, when you pass away it's documented.

"When I worked in the state archives I always said if you're doing your family tree, the best person to have in your family is someone who was convicted of murder and hanged, because there are a whole heap of records within the government.

"But someone buying a chocolate bar or a block of chocolate isn't documented. And so having the information about the brands and products over the years means this is not lost.

"If Cadbury shuts down tomorrow, it wouldn't disappear."

This story Bruce and the chocolate factory first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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