Divine Chocolate says it is the first farmer-owned Fair Trade chocolate brand. About 35% of the shares in the U.S. company that produces, markets and distributes Divine Chocolate are owned by the Kuapa Kokoo farmers’ cooperative in Ghana, an association of 45,000 small-scale cocoa farmers. The coop also owns about 45% of Divine Chocolate UK.
Kuapa Kokoo, the cooperative, has been around for nearly 20 years; it launched the Divine brand in the UK in 1998. A US affiliate brought Divine to this country three years ago; along with the farmers, owners include Lutheran World Relief, Oiko Credit, a Dutch fund that invests in microfinance and development efforts, and the UK Divine Chocolate company.
I spoke by phone with Mark Magers, the ceo of Divine Chocolate USA, to learn a little more about the company. Mark was just back from Ghana, where he was attending a board meeting of the company. That’s interesting when you think about it. Probably most westerners who go to Ghana to do chocolate business are buyers; he was going to report to his bosses, the cocoa farmers.
Farmers benefit in several ways from being owners, Mark told me. They capture more of the value in the chocolate bar. They gain an understanding of the global chocolate business. And they have more control over their destiny, since they elect the local “recorders” to whom they deliver their cocoa beans as well as their representatives on the company board and .
“There’s money, there’s knowledge and there’s power,” Mark says.
The chocolate bars and other products sold by Divine, are made in Germany. They are distributed through grocery and specialty stores such as Whole Foods Market, Cost Plus World Market, Wegman’s, Fred Meyer, and online at BuyDivine.com.
The Kuapa Kokoo cooperative has attracted plenty of attention from the west, including visits from Tony Blair and Melinda Gates. The Body Shop and Christian Aid backed the company in its early days. That’s evidence of how unusual it is for farmers to own a brand.
The company’s doing well, Mark says. Revenues are approaching $5 million. They grew by just under 30% last year and it intends to grow by 35% this year.
Still, it’s hard for Divide Chocolate to set itself apart from a crowd of chocolate brands seeking attention.
“Once you tell them the story, people get it,” Mark says. “They know that ownership is a good thing.”