24 Nov 2020

Divine Chocolate: The sweet smell of sustainable success

Sophi Tranchell saw a lot in her 20 years as CEO of Divine Chocolate, but if there’s one thing she’s learned it’s that you can’t change the world alone. “There’s a limit to what you can do as an individual,” she says. “Obviously you only eat a little bit of chocolate, you only drink a little bit of coffee - but actually if you can get your friends and family and the people in your work place and the people schools and the people in your community to buy Fairtrade then together we can make a significant difference.”

That sense of community - the farmers who grow the cocoa, the factory workers who turn it into chocolate, and the consumers who enjoy it - is one of the reasons Divine Chocolate is the winner of Trader of the Year category of the 2020 International Fairtrade Awards.

“Actually we’re all very similar, we all have the same hopes and aspirations,” says Sophi, who left Divine earlier this year. “Cocoa farmers want to look after their children, they want to educate them properly, they want to make sure they’ve got enough food on the table, they want to see that they’ve got some prospects, that they’ll be able to have a decent living in the future and that they live in a thriving and nice community. Those are the things that we all hope for.”

From their offices in London, Divine sources Fairtrade certified organic cocoa from Ghana, Sierra Leone and São Tomé, as well as Fairtrade certified sugar from Malawi. The company is co-owned by the Kuapa Kokoo cooperative in Ghana, putting the farmers themselves at the heart of decision-making. More recently, Divine Chocolate’s market has expanded beyond the UK to the US and other European countries.

“The farmers are at the heart of everything Divine’s done, and we’ve used chocolate as something that everybody loves to champion a different way of doing business,” says Sophi. “We particularly want to champion women farmers. More women than men eat chocolate and enjoy it, and we’ve r found that women speaking to women really understand each other.”

Giving women the chance to flourish is one of the reasons Divine stood out among the entries for Trader of the Year. “A 55 year old cocoa farmer called Comfort Kumeah from Ghana walked with us through the snow to Capitol Hill in Washington to help us launch the company in the US in 2007,” recalls Sophi. “She was on the front page of the Washington Times. That was a life-changing experience, and when she went back to her community she became a role model for her children and grandchildren. What an amazing story - to be launching the company that you own yourself as a cocoa farmer from Ghana.”

When Divine Chocolate was founded in 1999, sustainable supply chains and paying a farmers a fair price were niche concepts. Now, says Divine’s Sales Manager Chris Noel, other chocolate brands are playing catch-up. “We’re getting to the point where you can’t make a profit and not be sustainable,” he says. “The customers who talk to me are increasingly interested in what we are doing from a sustainability and ethical sourcing point of view. Gone are the days where businesses can just be about the profit line and not care about the people and not care about the planet.”

“When we first stared we were one of the very few chocolate companies who had an interest in ethical sourcing,” says Chris. “We hope other companies will up their game and that fair trade and paying farmers a fair price for their ingredients will be the norm rather than the exception.”

Fairtrade certification is a no-brainer for Divine. “What’s special about Fairtrade is that it’s the only sustainability certification scheme that really looks at the income that the farmers get,” says Sophi. “When Divine claims it’s paying cocoa farmers properly, chocolate lovers can actually believe that claim because it’s been audited by a third party. That’s important in terms of building consumer confidence.”

“People understand Fairtrade,” agrees Polly Woodruff, Divine’s Product Development Manager. “You pay a premium to the farmers which then allows them to do their business and their farming better, so it makes them more sustainable. There’s are a lot of new accreditation systems out there, and even though I work in the industry, I don’t really know what they’re doing. Fairtrade means we’re paying a premium on the product, but we think that’s the best route to go and the right thing to do.”