Sophi TRANCHELL MBE

Sophi Tranchell MBE, managing director, Divine Chocolate
A selection if Divine chocolate bars
Coco farmer Esther Ephraim Mintah
Coco farmer with Divine chocolate

Sophi Tranchell MBE, is the managing director of the farmer-owned Fairtrade chocolate company, Divine Chocolate. A faiRtrade pioneer, she was appointed in 1999 and has since led the company from a team of four to an international company worth a reported £14m today. Lysanne Currie meets the self-confessed ‘radical’ at her London HQ…

In her youth Sophi Tranchell was a committed anti-apartheid activist who picketed outside the headquarters of UK companies that did business in then white-ruled South Africa – and admits she spent much of her time outside supermarkets asking people to boycott certain products to bring about change.

Now as the managing director of the farmer-owned Fairtrade chocolate company, Divine Chocolate, she has wielded her passion and persistence to great effect in campaigning for better trade terms for small-scale producers and championing social enterprise.

“When I started at Divine Chocolate, I used those same networks and skills to persuade people that choosing certain products could be a force for good. I knew the power of the purse and pocket could bring change,” says Tranchell, whose work has been recognised with a number of prestigious awards including an MBE for services to the food industry.

“I started out as book-keeper at film distributor Metro Tartan and worked my way up to the top. We were distributing foreign language films and I had to find and grow the audience in the UK.

“I saw the job of MD of Divine Chocolate advertised and applied. There were similarities – Fairtrade chocolate was very new and I had to find an audience who would actively choose to buy our chocolate because they knew it would do good, and communicate to them in a way they trust.”

Divine Chocolate is the only Fairtrade chocolate company that is also co-owned by cocoa farmers. Kuapa Kokoo, a co-operative with 85,000 cocoa farmers in Ghana, benefit not only from the Fairtrade premium on the sale of their beans, but also receive the largest share of Divine’s distributable profits. This gives the farmers more economic stability, as well as the increased influence in the cocoa industry company-ownership brings.

“They voted to set up the chocolate company in 1997 and own 44 per cent of Divine,” explains Tranchell. “The farmers have two places on the board and 2 per cent of turnover is reinvested in development programmes for producer communities.

“They also get a 44 per cent share of any distributed profits. The Fairtrade premium and profit share from Divine is then invested back into farmer welfare, skills, community improvement and gender equality.”

Whilst getting ahead in the food industry means staying aware of the latest developments in the sector and making efforts to get a step ahead of them, Tranchell believes it’s about time businesses recognise the crucial role smallholder farmers can play in establishing sustainable food systems and continues to challenge businesses worldwide to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

“I passionately believe that in order to secure a sustainable future for many of the foods we take for granted we need to develop new ways of doing business that put smallholder farmers higher up the value chain,” says Tranchell, who admits she is angered by the gross inequality that is evident all around the world.

 “Our dependency on them to grow our foods and look after the land and, in turn their dependency on enough income to invest in their families, farms and communities, needs to be properly recognized in the way global trade is done.”

Tranchell admits the role of managing director for the innovative fair trade company was an irresistible proposition for someone who loved chocolate and had a fierce passion for social justice. Some 20 years later, the Schwab Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2016, has used the power of chocolate to engage with people in all walks of life and has also amassed a wealth of knowledge about effective business practices Ghana.

“I’ve now been travelling to Ghana for almost 20 years, and the experience has been one of politeness, friendliness – they always say “akwaaba” (welcome) – and willingness to help. They are not impressed by celebrity and hold education in high esteem.

She adds: “I’ve learned a lot about how land passes through the generations, and how Ghanaians might answer requests with what they think you want to hear rather than what is possible. You have to learn to ask questions in different ways.”

Divine Chocolate who are headquartered in Tower Bridge, London and thrive on collaborations with its supporters and partners, merged its UK and USA businesses in 2015 with Kuapa Kokoo owning 44% of the merged company. 

Two years later Divine Chocolate became a certified B Corp – demonstrating that the company’s economic model, empowers both those at the start and end of the supply chain, and is commercially successful. 

“B Corp is the leading global movement aiming to redefine business success and maximise the power of people using business as a force for good,” explains Tranchell proudly. “There are around 2782 certified companies and they all have made the same commitment as us - to change the way business benefits the world.”

“Getting the award involved a thorough assessment of our business and being certified shows that not only do we have ethically produced products, we also run our business well,” she adds.

A range of more than 70 products are distributed around the world, including to Canada, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Australia, Japan, Turkey, and South Korea.