Are there any other mainstream brands in UK that have African farmers as their largest shareholder? It’s an extraordinary business model to be part of – and we’ve been explaining over the years how company-ownership delivers real power to the farmers’ cooperative in the cocoa and chocolate markets , over and above the additional income it ensures.
However I’m constantly surprised at the feedback we get from individuals and organisations who have not really understood this model. It seems that whereas people understand where the control lies in company ownership examples such as Cadbury’s and Green & Blacks, Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s or Mars and Seeds of Change, even the most ethical of commentators or supporters seem not to appreciate the same relationship is possible with a group of African farmers.
We are constantly asked why we don’t ‘get our farmers’ to do this or that; for example to tell them to go organic, or apply different environmental standards, or host any trip people fancy making to view the farmers at work. Ultimately Divine is their chocolate company, they have two representitives on the Board, and we function as their marketing arm in UK. We can advise them as to market trends here, latest research studies and consumer feedback – but ultimately they make their own decisions about their company in a democratic fashion, and our plans have to be signed off by them, not the other way round.
For Kuapa Kokoo, having the major stake in their own chocolate company has not only brought in two further streams of income – it has given them status, and access to the workings of the chocolate market, previously unknown to cocoa farmers, and face-to-face contact with movers and shakers in that world. They have seen and heard firsthand that they are part of something much bigger (and more lucrative) than the confines of their own cocoa growing community in Ghana. Global companies have been buying cocoa from Ghana for over 100 years – but cocoa farmers have only discovered their cocoa goes to make chocolate relatively recently. Through owning Divine, the farmers of Kuapa Kokoo are in a more knowledgable and more powerful position in the supply chain.