Divine Chocolate cuts its cocoa co-op content to bring in capital
One of the world’s most established fairtrade chocolate brands has put its future in the hands of new private owners in return for capital investment and a commitment to continuing its social mission.
Until now, Divine Chocolate had been majority owned by Kuapa Kokoo, the farmers’ co-operative in Ghana that was a founding shareholder since the business was established in 1998.
Kuapa Kokoo, which has nearly 100,000 members, will still own 20% of the shares – but 80% have now been sold to Ludwig Weinrich GmbH & Co. KG (Weinrich), a family firm which has been manufacturing the chocolate in Germany since Divine began.
At the same time as the change in shareholders, it was announced that Sophi Tranchell, the company’s CEO over the last 21 years, had left the company in May this year. It is understood that her decision to go came last November and she has focused since then on ensuring the company was left in good hands and well-supported for the future.
The company – which posted £15.5m of sales across the UK, USA and Sweden in 2018/19 – would not disclose how much Weinrich has paid for the shares. But it told Pioneers Post: “Divine was in a position, like many businesses at present, where it needed external finance and the change in ownership structure allows the business to have access to this finance to continue its operations and grow the business.”
It said the co-op would still have “40% influence” on the board of the enterprise, adding: “It is important for Kuapa Kokoo to continue to have influence over the company and reap the benefits for the farmers.
“The objective and goals of Divine will not change and therefore we do not believe the change in our ownership should have an impact on the fundamentals of the business with respect to Fairtrade, B-Corp and being a social enterprise.”
In a statement about the changes, Divine said the agreement with Weinrich “ensures the company can continue its commitment to Fairtrade, a sustainable and traceable supply chain, and distribution to all its customers and supporters around the world. It will continue to remain committed to delivering positive impact for farmers in Africa”.
It described Weinrich’s CEO Cord Budde as “fully committed to our mission to empower cocoa farmers and chocolate lovers by delivering seriously good chocolate”, adding: “Mr Budde and his company have proved to be exceptional partners to Divine: not only developing and producing all our delicious chocolate flavours, but visiting farmers, hosting Kuapa Kokoo in their factory, building a school house to add to a school built by Kuapa, investing in establishing Divine USA, and helping in many ways to build our business.
“We are genuinely excited about what the future holds for the company.”
To be honest, Divine has changed my life. Yes, that might sound a bit impassioned, but it is true
In a recent Divine report, Budde reflected: “To be honest, Divine has changed my life. Yes, that might sound a bit impassioned, but it is true. Divine has brought me much closer to the most important part of our products, the cocoa and the farmers, and most important, made me much more sensitive regarding the needs and the livelihoods of those people who are producing this wonderful cocoa.”
Divine described its departing CEO Tranchell as “a champion of Fairtrade, of business as a force for good, and of women achieving equality, particularly farmers in the chocolate supply chain”.
It added: “She has demonstrated time and time again that things no-one thought possible can be done – starting with creating a chocolate company that turned ‘business-as-usual’ on its head by making farmers the biggest shareholders.”
Tranchell commented: “I am reassured to be leaving the company with our main manufacturer Weinrich having capitalised the business, in the knowledge that Weinrich’s CEO Cord Budde has been, and continues to be a totally committed partner, sharing Divine’s values and supporting its mission and ambitions.”
I am reassured to be leaving the company with our main manufacturer Weinrich having capitalised the business, in the knowledge that Weinrich’s CEO... continues to be a totally committed partner, sharing Divine’s values
Tranchell said Divine had “led and catalysed” a “real transition towards more equitable trade that could never again be undone”.
She added: “Working closely with farmers has been an absolute privilege – their lives have enriched mine and hopefully, via the farmers’ stories we have told, other lives have been enriched too. It has been especially rewarding to see the positive impact achieved for women as they are able to step up and take their rightful place in the chocolate story.
“Divine’s mission goes on – there is still a lot to do – but farmers’ income is right in the spotlight, as is the urgent need for social, environmental, and economic sustainability, so there is optimism for more positive developments. The social enterprise and B Corporation movements are setting inspiring examples and there is now a critical mass of discerning consumers who expect more of the companies they are buying from.”
Photos supplied by Divine Chocolate: Main photo - Kuapa Kokoo, the farmers’ co-operative in Ghana; Kuapa Kokoo members visit the Weinrich factory in Germany; Divine sharing bars range; departing Sophi Tranchell with some of the farmers.
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