Industry Voices: Fairtrade chocolate MD

Divine Chocolate gains top European supermarket listings and ponders single-origin bars

By Oliver Nieburg contact

- Last updated on GMT

Divine Chocolate MD Sophi Tranchell discusses a major supermarket listing in Sweden, expansion opportunities and supporting farmers in new cocoa origins. Photo: Richard Nicholson
Divine Chocolate MD Sophi Tranchell discusses a major supermarket listing in Sweden, expansion opportunities and supporting farmers in new cocoa origins. Photo: Richard Nicholson

Related tags: Cocoa farmers, Chocolate, Divine chocolate

UK Fairtrade candy company Divine Chocolate hopes to grow in mainland Europe's leading retailers and is considering expanding its cocoa sourcing to create a single-origin range, says the firm's managing director.

The premium chocolate firm - 44% owned by Ghanaian Fairtrade-certified farmers organization Kuapa Kokoo​ - has also bolstered support for cocoa farmers by funding a drying station in Uganda.

Swedish and Dutch supermarkets

Last week, Divine entered Axfood in Sweden, one of Scandinavia’s largest retail chains that owns grocery outlets Hemköp, D&D Dagligvaror, Spar Sverige, Spar Inn and Snabbgross.

"We're also working with a second distributor in Holland looking to take us into supermarkets there,"​ Divine Chocolate managing director Sophi Tranchell told ConfectioneryNews at the ISM trade fair in Cologne, Germany.

Sweden is currently the company’s strongest European market outside the UK.

“We've historically had some good sales in Holland, but they've fallen away,”​ said Divine’s MD.

Part-owned by farmers

Divine Chocolate works with Kuapa Kokoo's 85,000 farmers that last year produced 48,000 mertic tons (MT) of cocoa, of which 1,000 MT was acquired by Divine Chocolate. Kuapa Kokoo is also a licensed buying company.

"I think it's a challenge in the Netherlands because it's a market where prices are very low. We're obviously a premium chocolate so you have got to establish that we're worth the money,​” she said.

Expansion opportunities

Divine is also weighing up other European markets such as Germany, where there is a strong Fairtrade heritage.

But Tranchell said there were no plans to expand in France and Italy and added Spain's dark chocolate tastes were mainly for Latin American origin cocoa, which has a different flavor profile to Divine's African cocoa.

"We're manufactured in Germany so it makes a bit more sense,"​ she said.

The Divine boss added her firm has interest in the Far East and is already experiencing sales growth in Korea, where Tranchell said consumers were becoming increasingly interested in social enterprises.

divine easter eggs
Divine Chocolate launched flavored chocolate Easter Eggs at ISM .

New regions: Single origin chocolate

Divine Chocolate is about to sign-off a five-year strategy and may consider working with new cocoa farmers in African nations outside Ghana to create a single-origin chocolate range.

Financials

According to the latest available statistics, for the 12 months up to June 2014, Divine posted

  • Turnover  - £8.3m ($11.9m)
  • Net profit - £166,000 ($237,000)

“We're going to explore whether there's some potential in doing a higher-end sub-brand,”​ added Tranchell.

The MD said a large portion of the premium chocolate market uses single-origin Latin American cocoa, so Divine hopes to explore "neglected"​ African origins.

Togo, Cameroon, Sierra Leone, São Tomé, Madagascar and Côte D'Ivoire are possible options, but no decisions have yet been taken.

Divine may choose to blend cocoa from these origins or introduce single-origin chocolates.

Kuapa Kokoo recently gave Divine permission to purchase cocoa from a cooperative in Uganda, so Tranchell is hopeful the part-owners will be open to deals with cooperatives in other African origins.

The highest cocoa content chocolate Divine currently sells is 85%, but Tranchell said her company is closely following a rise in very high cocoa content chocolate in the UK.

North American exports

Caramel Bar_V2_ with Dark (2)
NPD: Divine showcased new caramel bars at the ISM trade fair, which already have listings in Tesco in the UK.

Divine will publish its 2014/15 annual report on March 3 this year and says it is on course to post record revenues and a profit in the US for the first time.

The company established a US subsidiary in 2007 and in late 2014 secured listings at supermarket chains Kroger, Meijer, Roundy’s and Ahold.

Divine's US sales team is also selling into Canada. There the company must package its products in multilingual French-English wrappers, which Tranchell said can be "quite challenging".

"That makes quite a lot of writing on the pack,"​ she said.

The home market

The Divine boss added her company's products were selling well in UK high-end supermarket Waitrose. The firm has UK listings for some products in Tesco, and would like to grow further in mainstream retail.

But Tranchell said: "I think discounters are difficult because we're not that model and we're not at the scale to do that kind of model.”

"In Britain our price points are completely comparable [to Lindt]. We're £2 and they're £2 [$2.86 for 100 g bars],” ​she continued.

"They've been doing very well. It makes it challenging being on the shelf next to them because they are doing a lot of discounts. We don’t have an ambition to be on promotion as much as they are," ​she said.

Sourcing from Uganda

drying center twin
Drying center in Uganda. Photo: Twin

Divine started to work with cocoa farmers in Uganda two years ago and plans to up cocoa sourcing from the country this year.

In Ghana, Kuapa Kokoo farmers individually dry their cocoa, but in Uganda, Divine has funded a drying station that the farmers jointly own.

Tranchell is a supporter of multi-cropping to give cocoa farmers another source of income to support their livelihoods.

Divine has been running pilots to help fund crops that are complementary to cocoa.

"The farmers are saying they think bananas are not bad,”​  said Tranchell.  But Divine’s trials are ongoing. Farmers in other origins multi-crop with rubber, which provides shade for cocoa trees.

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