Sophi Tranchell is the CEO of a chocolate company that is shaking up the chocolate industry. Divine Chocolate’s radical proposition turns the usual supply chain on its head, putting cocoa farmers high up the value chain, with the biggest share in the company. The company, which now does £12.6 million (approximately $16.5 million dollars) in annual sales, was set up from the start as a social enterprise, driven by its social mission: “To grow a successful global farmer-owned chocolate company using the amazing power of chocolate to delight and engage, and bring people together to create dignified trading relations, thereby empowering producers and consumers.”
When you are running a company that is positioned directly opposite the status quo, and competing alongside well-established popular brands, you need absolute belief in your mission, and a personal commitment to your vision of what can be achieved. Your long-term goal is to prove that yours could be a new and better way for business to be done.
Divine Double Chocolate Cranberry Cookies (Image and recipe: divinechocolate.com/us/recipes)
Tranchell and Divine Chocolate are multi-award winning pioneering social enterprises in one of the most competitive Fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) market sectors. Most recently, Tranchell scooped a Schwab Social Entrepreneur of the Year accolade, and was also honored with an MBE (Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) award from the Queen, for her services to the UK food industry. After 18 years experience with the successes and setbacks of pursuing her vision — a world where cocoa farmers are remunerated sustainably and empowered, so chocolate can be celebrated and cherished by everyone — Tranchell shares her top seven tips for those thinking about setting up their own socially motivated enterprise.
- Get your product and price right.
“However inspiring your company mission and however many people it benefits, your company will not succeed unless its product and/or service is as good as or better than its direct competitors,” Tranchell says. Divine Chocolate’s aim was to introduce a high-quality premium chocolate product — so it was very clear who their major competitors were. “Our challenge was not just to produce an excellent product. We had to find a factory of the standard and capacity we required which was independent and prepared to make all Divine products with our own traceable sustainably sourced supply of cocoa. We wanted to be careful about our main manufacturing partner and also protect our supply chain. That is the key to our mission, but it puts an additional premium on the product which can’t be passed onto the consumer.” Managing product quality at a competitive price is a tough challenge for any company, but it becomes especially complex when the company also must stick to this kind of mission. “It’s crucial to build in enough margin to allow you to market appropriately in your category,” she advises.
- Articulate your mission clearly.
“Articulating your mission clearly is really important,” Tranchell notes. She continues, “It needs to both convince and attract investors and partners, and it needs at all times to drive what the company does. The mission must remind all your staff and partners why they are doing this work. It should encompass the benefit(s) you want to deliver, the people you will be impacting, and how you’re going to accomplish it.” As you grow the company, this mission will be your anchor as well as your driving force. Along with “agreed upon company values,” it will help you and your staff focus on what is important, and “make decisions that sometimes fly in the face of normal business practices in your sector.”
- Articulate a strong USP.
Your unique selling proposition (USP) is unlikely to be purely your social mission. “You need to find a way to capture how your social mission is related to the quality of your product, which is not always easy or straightforward,” Tranchell explains. “At Divine Chocolate, our USP is presented as ‘owned by cocoa farmers, made for chocolate lovers’ – which does not suggest a direct causal relationship between ownership and product quality, but does combine two ‘feel-good’ reasons for choosing our products.”
- Choose your investors and Board members carefully.
Your mission and your business plan are both equally important when wooing investors and Board members. You are looking for people who share your values and who will be patient and supportive, rather than looking for a quick return, or immediate success. “It is also sensible to find a mix of people who can bring a really useful mix of experience and/or influence to the business,” Tranchell suggests. “Divine Chocolate started out with an investment from TWIN, the NGO specializing in working with smallholder farmers, ethical retailer The Body Shop, and development NGOs Christian Aid and Comic Relief. All had complementary missions, and could offer different types of support. For example, The Body Shop provided a customer network and an initial outlet; Christian Aid and Comic Relief also offered access to huge networks. They were names that carried a lot of positive brand awareness and integrity in the UK. We have also invited people with very useful experience in the FMCG market to join our Board.”
- Engage with your grassroots audience, and empower them to help change happen.
It is likely that the aim of your social mission is aligned with the desires of activists and proactive consumer groups already in existence, with their own networks. “Even if they are not necessarily the right target market for the product you are selling, these people and groups will be predisposed to help you promote your values-based product to others who are,” Tranchell explains. “Divine Chocolate is very fortunate to be selling chocolate, a product loved by almost everyone. We reached out from the start to the Fair Trade network, already well established in the UK, as well as to religious communities. We focused in on their desire to alleviate poverty and to realize that they were really making a difference. It is in the nature of campaigners to want something they can do, and Divine Chocolate provided an easy ask: “To love chocolate is human, to choose Fair Trade is Divine.’”
- Make great partnerships a priority.
Beyond canvassing support from your natural grassroots supporters, you are going to need some bigger guns to help you grow your reach and brand awareness. “As a social enterprise you are always likely to have the challenge of small budgets,” explains Tranchell, “but you have the advantage of being new and exciting, as well as espousing values that others aspire to and wish to support. These traits help attract some great partners. “Divine Chocolate has been lucky enough to team up with brands from a leading phone network, to a top publisher – both of which gave us hugely expanded reach. In addition, we made partnerships with fellow Fair Trade and social enterprise companies as well as with other exciting food and culture brands.” Great partnerships help raise brand awareness and provide opportunities to offer samples of our great product to a much larger audience. “While we continue to push for more listings and increased availability, we know that when people discover and love our chocolate, many will seek it out, and ask for it in their local shops. Partnerships were crucial to our success because they dramatically increased our reach as a company,” Tranchell adds.
- Recruit good people.
Social enterprises are by definition ‘people businesses’ and the people you gather together to achieve your mission and join you in realizing your vision, are key to your success. Choosing the right people also helps you create a company that your employees love working for. “In my experience, I would recommend social entrepreneurs start with a team that is really fired up by the mission and prepared to go the extra mile to get the business established. As you grow, you will start looking for more specialist skills, for example, in operations as the scope and complexity of the business grows, and stand-out marketing talent to help you compete in a busy commercial environment. However, even while looking for specialist skills, you need people who are excited by your values and your potential. You’ll also need to develop a good sense of who will fit in well with your team.” Tranchell notes that this is especially crucial in the start-up phase. “When you are small, everyone needs to bond well and be prepared to go beyond their job specs, and perhaps a bit beyond their comfort zone as change is the only constant in a developing business. New challenges come faster as you reach various stages of growth. Fortunately, you will find that you do develop a sense for recruiting the right person. As your brand becomes better known, you’ll start getting people knocking on your door, hoping they can join you.”
Tranchell’s seven pointers are particularly important for socially-minded startups. Nonetheless, the success of Divine Chocolate and the lessons Tranchell has learned along the way provide a valuable roadmap for companies of all sizes. You can learn more about Fair Trade chocolate on their website and taste the sweetness of their Divine success on Amazon.
This article was written by Kate Harrison from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.