China Esquire

Formerly a China Law and Business Blog–Now a Techie General Counsel's Musings

Book review: Chocolate Fortunes

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers from the publisher, AMACOM.

Again, a very overdue review. I read this one many, many months ago (probably a year now) and meant to write a review the entire time, so here it is. One caveat before I say anything: Lawrence Allen was previously at Hershey and relates some of his story here with a slight bias toward what Hershey was (and wasn’t) doing right in China. I don’t think it’s overly biased in a bad way personally, but I do think some may take objection with that fact.

I really enjoyed this book and think it very worthwhile for any amateur businessperson (i.e. undergraduate business majors or even a high school student interested in business, or anyone without any business training who wants to know more about what it takes to run a logistics heavy and product focused business). Why? Because Mr. Allen doesn’t talk too much about business theories, but uses the 5 chocolate manufacturers as actual example of what worked and didn’t work in the market. Each section devoted to a manufacturer–Ferrero, Cadbury, Nestle, Mars, and Hershey–has quite a bit of details:

I found the section on Ferrero to be a bit on the light side and talking more about Chinese culture and how the Ferrero Rocher product fit the culture well in terms of gift-giving and packaging, I think the other sections were much richer.

Cadbury’s attempts to translate its core messaging into a Chinese version without considering the constituency, as well as poor logistics decisions are well worth reading about. I’d say the key takeaway here is that poorly thought out, top-down decisions made by an MNC trying to operate in a local market without local management input is bound for failure.

Hershey’s is more of Mr. Allen’s story, and it feels a bit on the personal side. Hershey had a product that went well (Kisses) due to its match with Chinese consumer preferences, but it went awry for reasons that I’ll let the book actually explain. It’s the one where I would’ve liked to have heard a bit more about the missteps since I’m sure he had more inside perspective, but it’s still a valuable lesson that gaining market share and growing isn’t the end goal because market power can fade very quickly.

The Nestle section was actually my favorite because that was the section where a lot of information from a management and executive level was included. To get to know businesses isn’t just about process or logistics–a lot of things are very people dependent. Great teams are great teams. You get a flavor of that here when you see the successes and weaknesses of a particular executive team at work. I wish the entire book was like this section because I thought it was that good.

And finally, Mars highlights the important of strong logistics and operations. Strong sourcing to infrastructure to channels makes a big difference, and Mars apparently had the efficiency and culture to pull off market dominance in China. Again, well worth reading this section–second only to the Nestle one in my view.

I would’ve liked more details personally, but then it would become more of a case review for a business journal rather than an entertaining business book read. Recommend, particularly for business amateurs.

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A bit about me

Thomas Chow is a seasoned executive with 20 years of experience in technology, legal services, and startup companies. A former China law and business blogger, he is currently General Counsel & Secretary at PubMatic, a digital advertising platform providing automation technology for publishers and programmatic tools for media buyers.  He still enjoys a good chat about all things Chinese.

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