Divine Chocolate: Proudly Owned by Cocoa Farmers in Ghana
Kuapa Kokoo member Adwoa Asianaa. Photography: Kim Naylor
You may know Divine for their delicious, indulgently flavoured chocolate, but did you know the company is 44% owned by the farmers that grow its cocoa beans? Divine pride themselves on being the first farmer-owned, Fairtrade chocolate company for the mass market, empowering thousands of producers and workers in West Africa.
We spoke to the Managing Director, Sophi Tranchell, who has been with the company for over 17 years and has been key to building Divine into one of the UK's leading social enterprises.
How does the Divine business model work and what is the structure of the company?
Divine makes a delicious range of Fairtrade certified chocolate that keeps people coming back time and time again. What’s special about Divine is that the farmers that supply the cocoa own 44% of the company, have 2 seats on the board and receive the biggest share of the distributed profit. The farmers are organised in a co-operative called Kuapa Kokoo - which translates as "good cocoa farmer" - which has more than 85,000 members in 1,247 villages in the cocoa growing belt in Ghana. We want to create chocolate people can really enjoy, while also empowering the farmers who grow the cocoa and putting them at the heart of everything the business does. Divine is the only mainstream chocolate company in the UK that is Fairtrade and farmer owned.
What is the social impact of the Kuapa Kokoo co-operative?
Kuapa Kokoo farmers’ Co-operative receive the Fairtrade premium on the cocoa they sell and decide democratically each year how that money is spent. Recently they have decided to pay bonuses to farmers for every sack of cocoa purchased and to invest in community projects like building schools, wells and a medical centre.
Divine also invests 2% of the company’s turnover in producer support and development programmes which are agreed mutually with the farmers. The aim is to help them build their business by supporting them in good governance, ensuring women’s participation, improving farming practices and developing good labour standards. This year we have helped them to produce a series of hour long radio programmes which is a great way to communicate with such a large membership. We have also supported literacy and numeracy programmes particularly for women as this was identified as a barrier to full participation in the Co-op. Women’s groups in villages also help develop other income generating activity such as community farms to grow additional crops to sell or eat as well as other activities like the production of liquid soap and screen printing.
How involved are the Kuapa Kokoo farmers in the strategic direction of the business?
Kuapa Kokoo are the biggest shareholders and two members sit on the board so they have full disclosure and participation on how the company is run and the decisions that are made, including how producer support and development funds will be spent. Over the last year we have agreed a 5 year strategy and the Board has been fully involved.
What separates you from competitors and other Fairtrade chocolate brands?
Farmer ownership really sets us apart; our mission is to empower producers and consumers. So putting farmers at the heart of everything we do is important to us. We pride ourselves on doing business differently which also extends to the people we work with. We have a wide range of partners and organisations we work with, including Christian Aid and Comic Relief who helped start the company. Traceability is also important as all our chocolate is Fairtrade certified and traceable back to where it was grown.
Divine Managing Director Sophi Tranchell. Photo credit: Divine Ltd
Why did you decide to go with a lower priced, mainstream chocolate bar as the product to sell to consumers?
Because our mission is to empower farmers, the more chocolate we sell the more benefit we deliver, so being competitively priced is important. We also want to be inclusive; chocolate is a great vehicle for social change – if everyone can afford to buy a bar then more people are discovering the story. Ultimately the more chocolate we sell, the more cocoa we buy, and the more income farmers receive. Because we also invest a proportion of our profits in farmer projects, the more profit we make, the more we can invest in these projects too.
We see your packaging features Adinkra symbols – as does the Aduna logo. Tell us about the Divine brand?
The Adinkras are distinctive West African symbols and can be seen across Divine’s chocolate bars and packaging as a reflection of Divine’s proud Ghanaian heritage. The motifs include plants, animals and objects and each carry meanings reflecting ancient proverbs, human characteristics, and historical events, such as ‘Denkyem’ which means adaptability because it exists in water and on the land.
Do you think consumers are becoming more conscious about buying ethical products?
There’s definitely been a growth in awareness and interest amongst shoppers, particularly millennials, about where their food comes from; who is producing it and the story behind it. The awareness of Fairtrade is now at 93%, and people are generally more interested in making sustainable or ethical choices when it comes to food.
How do you see Divine furthering its positive impact across Africa/globally?
We want to grow globally and sell our chocolate in as many regions as possible; currently Divine is sold in the US and several countries in Europe and Asia as well as in the UK.
As well as cocoa, we also source as many ingredients as possible from Fairtrade certified growing communities around the world including sugar from Kasinthula, a Malawian Fairtrade co-operative, vanilla from Fairtrade farmers in Madagascar and Fairtrade almonds grown in Pakistan.
We’re helping farmers in Africa to diversify too by growing other crops to sell or eat, such as in Uganda where we’re helping farmers diversify from vanilla and coffee into cocoa too.
If you'd like to find out more about Divine and their social mission, or try one of their delicious chocolates for yourself, you can get more information on their website: www.divinechocolate.com/uk.