Who Should Buy Cadbury? The TIME Taste Test

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Frantzesco Kangaris / Bloomberg

A woman eats a piece of Cadbury's Dairy Milk chocolate

Three weeks after a $17 billion bid by food giant Kraft — expected to be detailed in offer documents circulated among shareholders from Friday — the tussle to take over tasty British confectioner Cadbury shows no signs of melting. In rejecting Kraft's hostile offer last month, Cadbury labeled it "derisory." Now U.S. rival Hershey has said it's mulling a bid of its own while Italy's Ferrero has also expressed an interest in gobbling Britain's favorite chocolate maker. While some doubt those companies' ability to come up with the money for such a big target, there are no such worries with Nestlé, the Swiss food behemoth who is also said to be contemplating an offer.

What's so great about Cadbury? The world's second-largest chocolate company would give Kraft and Ferrero muscle in markets where they are weak. Hershey, meantime, already knows what it's like to team up with the Brits; it's owned the license to the Cadbury brand in the U.S. for years. Like Nestlé, it would probably rather not stand by and watch a combined Cadbury-Kraft become the most powerful chocolate maker in the galaxy.

Until now, the merits of the potential bids have all come down to numbers and finances and markets. But analysts and shareholders may have been ignoring the obvious as they ponder which company might get to swallow Cadbury whole. Thankfully, TIME has come up with a fail-safe measure of judging possible dueling bids: the taste of the rival companies' products.

Applying cutting-edge science, TIME set out to determine which manufacturer's chocolates boast the brightest commercial prospects and the greatest potential for in-mouth mash-ups. Handpicked and blindfolded, our tasters came from countries representing a third of the global chocolate market. The group of six was also split evenly between men and women and between the U.S. and the U.K. (One of the male tasters boasts dual nationality but was deemed British by virtue of his having eaten most of his chocolate here.)

The task was simple. Tasters sampled a range of chocolates made by Cadbury, Hershey's, Kraft, Nestlé and Ferrero and were then asked to pick a winner in each of four categories. The candies were also put through a separate test to measure how much they might stick together when transported for long distances in my pocket, conditions accurately recreated by placing the chocolates under a desk lamp for a few hours. It was important to ensure that everyone received the same-sized portion of each chocolate, a rule I altered only after people left my office feeling sick.

The results were definitive. Illinois-based Kraft's Swiss Milka brand triumphed in the big bar — chocolate makers call them "tablets" — category, owing mainly, to go by the comments of the six tasters, to its being neither British nor American. Or as Louise Thomas of The Chocolate Consultant in London put it, when I called her for an independent professional view: "The Swiss like their [chocolate] milky and creamy."

In the next section — popular chocolates shaped like triangles or trapezoids — the Kit Kat from Nestlé just beat out Hershey's Kisses, an entrant at a slight disadvantage because voters had to imagine how they tasted after the local convenience store sold out of them. (That may have been for the best: TIME's test generated a deluge of opinions about where the best chocolate comes from. The bottom line on the Old World side of the Atlantic: big selling American chocolate is sour, powdery and generally inferior to European chocolate).

Still, that didn't stop Hershey's Reese's Pieces stealing the category for confectionary in the round. In the fourth and final group — filled chocolates — Fry's Peppermint Cream, part of the Cadbury family, comfortably beat all-comers.

The takeover target's chocolates performed less impressively under the lamp, though. The standard Cadbury chocolate bar lost a mark for converting to liquid while Kraft's Toblerone picked up one for being able to withstand conditions similar to those inside the Hadron Collider. The triangle-shaped bar soon lost that point again, though, for stabbing the roof of my mouth when I ate it.

The main lesson from the test: it's unlikely I'll ever again get to feed chocolate to a succession of blindfolded women. On the other hand, chocolate is sometimes best enjoyed without sharing. After all, the confectioner with the highest score was none other than Cadbury. Let that be a lesson to whichever firm does nab one of Britain's great icons: don't mess with a favorite.