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Changing the World one chocolate bar at a time

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The I Am Group proudly hosted Charlotte Borger, Communications Director of the fair trade confectionery company ‘Divine Chocolate’, as our guest speaker for this month’s Wednesday networking night.

Now a household name within the charity and ethical business sector, Charlotte packed out the Judge’s Chamber in Browns, Covent Garden as over 60 people turned out to hear her short talk. In a story that might sound fanciful if pitched as the plot of a Hollywood movie, we heard how a group of entrepreneurs from West Africa revolutionised the chocolate industry.

Charlotte’s story revolved around one big idea: if cocoa farmers in the developing world received a fair and sustainable price for their cocoa, and were able to share in some of the chocolate wealth they help create, they could transform their communities forever, build their businesses, and take control over their own futures.

This idea became a reality with the creation of Kuapa Kokoo – which means good cocoa growers – a business set up by cocoa farmers in Ghana who joined forces with investors to create Divine Chocolate, in which they would have a 45% stake. Mind-bogglingly, Charlotte continued, even though UK chocolate companies had been buying cocoa from producers across Africa for over a century, this was the first time anyone had ever dared to do this.

By 2007, nine years after their launch, ‘Divine Chocolate’ had become a national brand and generated enough revenue to service its debts and begin paying dividends to the cocoa farmers in Ghana who made it all possible. Those profits have since been reinvested in to the community in the form of health, sanitation, and education initiatives, while the subsequent rise in living standards is helping to eliminate child labour and combat climate change.

A pioneer in the field of social enterprise, the success of Divine Chocolate is an invaluable guide for anyone determined to start up their own ethical business. Here are a few of the lessons we learnt from Charlotte last night:

  1. In a competitive market, consumers fall in love with brands not products – building the brand of Divine Chocolate with the help of celebrity endorsements and catchy advertising campaigns has proved crucial to company’s success.
  2. Collaboration is good for business – when Divine Chocolate first launched, they partnered with Christian Aid who sent their supporters out to supermarkets to drive demand by asking where they could buy the new chocolate bars and incentivising the likes of Sainsbury’s and Tesco to stock them across the country.
  3. People identify with people not companies – Charlotte’s role as communications director is to tell the story of Divine Chocolate and by focusing on the farmers themselves and how the company’s success has transformed their lives, not only has she built up a strong loyalty to the brand among customers, but has also won support from celebrities and the press.

Looking into the future, Charlotte told us of her ambition to promote the fair trade movement across the world, something in which Divine Chocolate have already achieved stunning success with the UK’s largest chocolate companies now converting to more sustainable supply chains. Influencing public policy is not beyond them either with their success winning them the support of the Department of Business Innovation and Skills, and the Department for International Development playing a key role in their initial launch in the UK.

You can learn more about Divine Chocolate at https://www.divinechocolate.com/uk and if you share their vision (or just really like good chocolate) you can buy their delicious Easter eggs at Oxfam and Waitrose, and you can ask your local Sainsbury’s and Tesco to stock them too.

So, after another fascinating evening at the I Am Group, it falls to me to wish you a happy Easter and invite you to next month’s Wednesday networking night on the 29th April. Keep an eye on www.iamenterprises.co.uk for details and be sure to book in advance to guarantee your place.

By Tony Koutsoumbos, Fundraising specialist for the I Am Group

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