Awards 1994 Booker Tate Award For Small Businesses

Booker Tate Award For Small Businesses

Green & Black's

Having delivered an order to Sainsburys with only ten minutes to spare, Jo Fairley decided she needed a second source of organically-grown cocoa beans for her Green & Black's chocolate. A port blockade in politically-volatile Togo, West Africa, had delayed the dispatch of beans for chocolate manufacture and put her Sainsbury connection in danger.

She recalled drinking chocolate with Maya villagers in Belize, Central America, descendants of the first people to grow cocoa as a crop. She decided to find out about buying beans from them. The result is one of the more startling small-business success stories of 1994 which has given a good price and an assured market to over 140 farmers.

Green & Black's Maya Gold chocolate, flavoured with orange and local spices, won the newly-created Fairtrade mark, was taken up by all the major supermarket firms and is helping Green & Black's towards a 1 million turnover, more than double last year.

Jo Fairley, who featured in BSkyB's Go for Green and was Britain's youngest magazine editor at 23 when she edited Look Now, describes herself as a lifelong chocoholic. She got into chocolate-making three years ago through finding a few pieces on the desk of her husband, Craig Sams. "It's the best I've ever eaten," she said.

It had been made at Bordeaux for André Deberdt, a French agriculturalist who was trying to help Togolese cocoa growers. Their beans, grown without chemicals, did not earn them enough income. Perhaps if a top-quality chocolate were made from the beans, they would earn more. He sought Sams's help with marketing; but Sams, of Whole Earth Foods, never marketed anything containing sugar.

Jo Fairley recalls: "It was probably the only time in my life I had money: I'd sold my house in Fulham." She bought 20,000 worth of Deberdt's chocolate and launched Green & Black's. "I wanted something that sounded like an old English company, like Callard and Bowser or Barker and Dobson."

Whole Earth Foods, through their existing distribution network, were able to deliver the chocolate to health food shops. Then a Sainsburys director tried some at a dinner party. Next day, Jo Fairley had a Sainsburys buyer on the phone, asking her to submit the chocolate for review, "which we did and we were in."

The near-disaster with Sainsburys through the Togo port blockade took place in August last year. Seeking new beans suppliers in Belize, Jo found the growers there had had a bad experience.

An American company had offered $1.75 a pound for beans in 1987 and encouraged them to plant hybrid trees for which some borrowed money. When the company's buyers returned in 1992 the cocoa price had fallen and they were offering only 55 cents, too little to cover the growers' costs. Some growers lost their land to banks which had lent them money.

Through the local co-operative, the Toledo Cacao Growers Association, Jo Fairley offered $1.25 a pound and a three-year contract, so growers had the security to go on weeding and picking cocoa.

She started talking to the Fairtrade Foundation (set up by Cafod, Christian Aid, the National Federation of Women's Institutes, Oxfam, Traidcraft Exchange and the World Development Movement). It was looking for a product that gives poor overseas farmers a better deal and so qualifies for its new symbol. By selling direct to Green & Black's, the Maya get a better deal because there are no middlemen involved.

Fairtrade inspectors who visited Belize then recommended raising the price to $1.45 a pound, to encourage even more farmers to come into the project. Green & Black's agreed, and got the Fairtrade mark on January 31. The new Maya Gold chocolate was on sale on March 2, in time for Easter.

Green & Black's now buys from 600 growers in Togo and expects the Belize total to pass 300. Jo and Craig went to the Toledo association's annual meeting in August. "It was like a fiesta," she says.

The chocolate continues to be made in Bordeaux because France, unlike Britain, has many small manufacturers. The recipe uses the minimum of sugar and the maximum of chocolate, giving the Mayas the biggest possible order.

The Maya have earned more in six months than they could formerly earn in a year. Green & Black's makes interest-free loans so that they can be paid as soon as they deliver beans to the co-operative.

They grow cocoa under the canopy, without clearing the forest. Jo Fairley is pleased they have a profitable use for their land which, as a result, will not be turned over to plantation agriculture.

She says she became interested in the environment at school when she came across the Consumers' Guide to Saving the Planet. Going into journalism, however, she led a slightly schizophrenic life, interested in recycling and reducing her impact on the planet but writing for consumer magazines. When the green movement began to make headlines, she started writing a green column for The Times. Then she went on BSkyB's Go for Green programme, with David Bellamy.

Jo says her long-term aim in Belize is to help the Toledo association set up an organisation to certify produce as organically grown. This would ease the marketing of other organic products in Britain and Europe.