The transforming power of chocolate. talks to Sophi Tranchell

Sophi Tranchell, Managing Director of the biggest Fairtrade chocolate company in the UK, talks to Ethical Superstore about her hopes for the financial crisis to transform businesses for the better; competing in a market with multinationals and taking Fairtrade chocolate to America.

Ethical Superstore: You were awarded an MBE this year Sophi – what does that mean to you?

Sophi Tranchell: It’s great to be acknowledged for doing something you love, but the real impact is for Divine. It’s a boost to our status and an acknowledgement of what we have achieved; it also provides additional clout to where we hope to have an influence — retail, government and, of course, chocolate lovers.

ES: Will shoppers swap their Fairtrade chocolate for cheaper brands during the crunch?

ST: If you support a fairer way to trade, you are unlikely to stop supporting it when budgets are tight. In fact many people are aware that the need to support farmers in developing countries becomes even more important. Not only that, when times are tough people cherish their more affordable treats and chocolate is always good for a lift and a little indulgence.

ES: How do you explain the success of a company that has had to compete with multinationals such as Cadbury’s, Mars and Nestlé?

ST: We had something very different to say which engaged interest.
Obviously, we’ve never been able to compete in terms of scale and marketing budget but we’ve punched above our weight getting across a powerful and compelling story and demonstrated to consumers that they can make choices and bring about change.

ES: How much of the chocolate market do you think a Fairtrade brand can capture in the UK?

ST: At the moment Fairtrade products are still a small fraction of the UK chocolate market –- around one per cent — but even a small fraction of a big market can make a major difference to farmers. Divine has the potential to significantly grow and take a real share of the market. If every chocolate-lover swapped one of their regular treats for Divine it would really have an impact. I think Fairtrade has the potential to be the way all trade is done.

ES: You launched Divine in the US in 2007 — what reception has it had?

ST: Both the product and the Divine story seem to be going down extremely well.  Americans are loving the taste and for a country that values farmers, farming and the idea of owning your own business –- Divine is 45 per cent owned by the Ghanaian farmers’ cooperative that supplies the cocoa —  the Divine proposition ticks a lot of boxes.

ES: What hope do you have for the socially-driven business model in the current financial climate?

ST: I have great hopes that out of the crisis a new era of socially-driven businesses could emerge. The present situation has shown us that the purely profit-motivated business model hasn’t worked. It never worked for the poor and excluded and now it can’t even survive on its own terms. It has over-borrowed and over-promised and finally the bubble has burst. The current climate will motivate people to re-examine the businesses they buy from.  People will want to see money and decision-making move into the hands of the many rather than resting in the hands of the few.

ES: What lessons have you learned over your last 10 years at Divine?

ST: If you really believe you are doing something worthwhile, then you have to be amazingly persistent and not worry about repeating the same stories over again. At the right time, in the right place, your message will hit home.

ES: Where next for Divine?

ST: Lots more new products! Our new chocolate hearts are just out; a wonderful new Divine Easter Egg to add to the range this year; and some delicious new gift ideas in progress.  We’ve also just launched our online gift shop. Our aim is to get more chocolate to more people in more ways.

ES: You’re surrounded by chocolate — many peoples idea of heaven — can you ever tire of the stuff?

ST: No! Never – there’s always something different to enjoy on any occasion.

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