Pride and Produce: A Tale of Fair Trade

Divine Chocolate, Ghana

Kuapa Kokoo (KUAPA), or “good cocoa farmer” in the Ghanaian language of Twi, is a co-operative of cocoa farmers established in 1993, in the Republic of Ghana (Ghana), following the liberalization of the economy. Some 2000 small-scale cocoa farmers formed the co-operative to protect themselves against fluctuations in the price of cocoa on the international market.

The DIVINE Chocolate Company trademark
(Image: OHIM registration)

KUAPA’s ultimate aim is to ensure the socio-economic and political needs of its farmers, to enhance women’s inclusion in decision-making processes, and to encourage environmentally sustainable production practices.

By 1997, KUAPA had over forty thousand members from one thousand villages. The co-op had taken control of sales and distribution channels, improved the quality of its products, increased the quantity of cocoa sales in Ghana by ten percent, and boosted its farmers’ income.

Financing and partnerships

KUAPA’s early development was aided by instrumental support from international organizations and corporations. The farmers’ co-operative joined forces with Twin Trading, an alternative trade organization that provided the co-op’s initial financing and offered operational and financial advice, and Stichting Nederlandse Vrijwilligers (SNV), a non-profit organization based in the Netherlands that offers rural development and training advice in developing countries. 

From the beginning, the co-operatives’ farmers established Kuapa Kokoo Limited (KKL) as a licensed cocoa buying company owned by the Kuapa Kokoo Farmers Union (KKFU). KKL acts as the commercial and trading department of the union while also negotiating best-prices on the market and sharing profits with its members. It is run by non-farming managers.

In 1996, KUAPA farmers incorporated the Kuapa Kokoo Farmers Trust (KKFT). KKFT receives all premiums from the farmers’ cocoa sales into the international market. The money is invested into KUAPA’s main business and social concerns. The trust, for example, funds several community projects such as digging water wells, financing economic projects for local women, running mobile medical programs, providing credit unions, and educating farmers. It is also responsible for paying the farmers’ bonuses.

In 1998, as a means to increase profits, gain direct access to international markets, and sell their own goods, the farmers voted in favor of setting up a chocolate manufacturing company. As a result, Day Chocolate Company (DAY) was established as a chocolate brand based in the United Kingdom (UK).

DAY was to be largely owned by the farmers’ cooperative with additional investment from Twin Trading and The Body Shop International (The Body Shop). Extra logistical, financial, and marketing support for the venture was provided by Christian Aid (a sustainable development agency), the UK government’s Department for International Trade, Comic Relief (a philanthropic charity), and National Westminster Bank (NatWest offered banking services).

Commercialization

In 1998, DAY produced its first chocolate bar – Divine Fair Trade milk chocolate – and launched it in the UK market. Because KUAPA farmers owned thirty three percent shares in the company, the product was the first farmer-owned Fair Trade chocolate bar (Fair Trade is a trading practice based on dialogue, transparency, respect and equity for producers).

Beatrice Asante, KUAPA farmer, Ghana
(Photo: DIVINE Chocolate Company)

The cooperative’s business model was a revolutionary idea in many other respects. Not only did the farmers own shares in their company, they also had two representative directors sitting on DAY’s governing board. Moreover, although DAY was based in the UK, one out of four annual board meetings was held in Ghana, at the heart of the farmers’ location.

In 2006, KUAPA’s influence in DAY and share of the company’s profits increased substantially when The Body Shop donated its shares in the chocolate company to the farmers.   Shortly thereafter, the company changed its name and as has been known as Divine Chocolate LTD (DIVINE). In 2007, DIVINE launched a separate operating company in the USA, Divine Chocolate Inc.

Branding and trade dress

In order to distinguish KUAPA chocolate products from those of well-established competitors in the industry, DIVINE was aware that it had to develop a strong brand name and image that would resonate with consumers.

The company sought to attach its brand image to the timeless principles of quality, equity and fairness. In order to achieve these aims, DIVINE elected to participate in Fair Trade certification and launched a series of campaigns aimed at attracting new consumers and persuading policy makers to support Fair Trade certified goods.

Having achieved “Fair Trade” certification for all its products, DIVINE developed high profile promotional campaigns in collaboration with established charitable firms, major organizations, parliamentarians and famous individuals in the UK. 

Cocoa plant, Ghana
(Photo: Flickr/Jonathan Ernst)

In order to raise nation-wide awareness of its brand, the company produced TV campaigns in the UK featuring British celebrities. In 1999, for instance, DIVINE and Christian Aid launched a “Stock the Choc” television campaign for its chocolates featuring a well-known television personality in the UK. The campaign resulted in the company’s products being stocked in Sainsbury’s Supermarkets Ltd (Sainsbury’s), one of the country’s leading businesses.

Having gained the attention of the nation at large, the company focused its next consciousness raising campaign on attracting young consumers to its brand. To this end, DIVINE launched a series of community based campaigns – in partnership with established children-oriented organizations in the UK – that engaged and challenged young adults and their parents.

In 2000, for example, the manufacturer launched its crunchy brand of Fair Trade chocolate – known as Dubble – in collaboration with Comic Relief, a well-known charity in the UK especially famous for mobilizing young people. Thousands of children joined the competition announced as part of the campaign, all keen to be a part of creating a Fair Trade chocolate bar that was affordable. The campaign not only introduced the young to DIVINE’s affordable product, it also raised awareness among them of its ethical aims.

In order to consolidate the gains made in capturing this important customer-base, in 2001 the company initiated another Fair Trade competition where children were asked to write poems expressing their ideas of Fair Trade. The launch was not only supported by Christian Aid, but also by famous children’s books writers such as Jacqueline Wilson and Michael Morpourgo.

By the time DIVINE introduced its most famous product (Dark 70%) in 2001, its brand name not only resonated with the UK public generally, but its ethical and equitable credentials were gaining support as well. Furthermore, in the same year, the Co-operative Supermarket in the UK adopted Fair Trade chocolate, supplied by DIVINE, in all its stores.

Seeking to maximize its brand image among young consumers and their families, in 2003 the company created a new campaign – featuring Dubble Agents – where young adults (or “Dubble Agents”) were given a “Mega Mission” to induct parents or guardians into community-driven, Fair Trade projects. “MISSION: POSSIBLE” – as the campaign was called – was launched in preparation for the 2006 Fair Trade Schools Conferences (called CHOCOL8). The campaign included a new website (www.dubble.co.uk), and a Mission information pack – designed to help Dubble Agents use positive pester power to get a fair deal for producers in developing countries worldwide.

The CHOCOL8 conference was particularly successful in mobilizing young people. Driven by the Trading Visions charity, the conference allowed school children to conduct Fair Trade discussions all over the UK. Two Ghanaian children whose parents are KUAPA farmers went to the UK and inspired their contemporaries during the visit with stories about life in rural Ghana. By introducing children from both communities to each other, the company bridged the cultural and emotional divide between the young, UK campaigners on the one hand, and their peers in Ghana on the other. The UK children were thus motivated to campaign for Fair Trade and KUAPA gained new supporters for its causes and customers for its brands.

Having established a strong brand presence among children and adults in the UK, DIVINE was determined to ensure the support of international and national policy makers for its Fair Trade goals. Following the CHOCOL8 conference, 12,000 signatures (called the Chocolate Challenge Manifesto) from the children was presented to the then UK minister for International Development. With the combined voice of thousands of UK children behind them, the company was able to make a strong case for Fair Trade at the highest levels of government. DIVINE showed that not only was Fair Trade a viable means of international trade, but it was also a noble cause stirring positive grass-roots activism in children.

Having made an initial approach to government, DIVINE took further measures to maintain the Fair Trade momentum and achieve its other aims: inclusion of women. In 2005, the company launched its first UK-wide advertising campaign featuring young women from the KUAPA community in Ghana. In the same year, a farmer from the co-operative visited the UK parliament (and the Scottish parliament in 2006) and lobbied its members on behalf of KUAPA members. By introducing its women farmers to the UK public and parliament, the company not only put a human face to its ethical aims, it also enhanced women’s role in the company and strengthened its ethical brand presence. Furthermore, in July of 2005 DIVINE enhanced its brand awareness by ensuring that its Fair Trade chocolates were readily available to heads of state who attended and the media who reported The Group of Eight (G8) summit in Gleneagles, Scotland.

Indeed, after a series of successful branding drives, DIVINE changed its company name from Day Chocolate Company Ltd to Divine Chocolate Company Ltd in 2007, a decision which consolidated its market presence and aligned the company’s trade name with its leading chocolate brand. Commensurate to DIVINE’s new trade name, the company incorporated attractive design features for its chocolate. Timed to coincide with Ghana’s Golden Anniversary Independence celebrations, DIVINE’s chocolates were wrapped in golden, traditional, West African Adinkra symbols (made from woodcuts or screen prints).

The farmers’ co-operative and the company’s board members not only altered DIVINE’s trade dress, they also changed the product’s content. The company’s chocolates now contain Fair Trade sugar from the Republic of Malawi, further enhancing KUAPA’s and DIVINE’s Fair Trade credentials and brand image.

As of 2011, DIVINE had fifteen chocolate brands including Divine Fair Trade Milk Chocolate, Dubble, Divine After Dinner Mints, Divine Drinking Chocolate, and Divine 70% Dark Chocolate Salted Fudge. Because of the high quality of Ghana’s chocolate, the Darkly Divine 70% cocoa brand has achieved respectable market share in the 70-80% cocoa solids block segment.

The company’s strategic branding as Fair Trade combined with national campaigns targeted at specific consumer and policy groups optimized its entry into the UK chocolate market. DIVINE has consequently become a major brand in the UK with global ambitions. 

Trademark

Having developed a distinct brand image, the managers at DIVINE are keenly aware of the value of the company’s brands as assets for enabling future commercialization and as tools for enhancing customer loyalty. They therefore are keen to safeguard those assets through the intellectual property (IP) system.

DIVINE Chocolate Company brands with Adinkra
symbols from Ghana (Photo: DIVINE Chocolate
Company)

To this end, in 1998 the company applied for trademarks for the slogans: “Divine Heavenly Milk Chocolate with a Heart”™ and “A Fair Deal for Cocoa Growers”™ in its largest market – the European Union (EU) – at the Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market (OHIM).  A figurative mark with the colors gold, white, pink, red, orange, blue and green is also registered.

Because the company desired to expand into the United States of America (USA), which has a US $16 billion chocolate industry, in 2005 it filed a trademark for DIVINE™ at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). In the same year, DIVINE was filed as a word and figurative trademark in the EU via the intellectual property office (IPO) of the UK.

In order to protect its new brands and catch-phrases, in 2008 the company filed a trademark for the word mark “DIVINE” and the phrase “Heavenly Chocolate with a Heart”, also at the USPTO.

With its intellectual property rights (IPRs) secured with trademarks, the company is able to expand unencumbered into new territories and pursue further commercialization opportunities.

Business results

KUAPA’s growth and business success has been based on a well-planned strategy to empower farmers, produce quality products, and commercialize attractive, ethically sound, customer-approved chocolates.

On the long road to success, the farmers’ company has become an award-winner. In 1999, DIVINE won Millennium product status, a trophy which was awarded by the Design Council in the UK to British companies which show “imagination, ingenuity and inspiration” in product design.

Not only winning awards, the co-operative has proved its resilience in the market. As a result, representatives of KUAPA celebrated its 10th Anniversary in Kumasi, Ghana, in 2004. The co-op’s sister company, moreover, has expanded across borders and continents. In 2007, DIVINE Chocolate Inc. launched into the USA in order to take advantage of a 102% increase in that year in sales for Fair Trade products in North America.

Adwoa Asianaa, KUAPA farmer, Ghana
(Photo: DIVINE Chocolate Company)

Furthermore, KUAPA farmers have enjoyed the benefits of DIVINE’s growth. In August of 2007, the company announced its first dividends (payment to share-holders) and the co-op’s members shared in the profits.

KUAPA farmers not only succeeded in launching a chocolate brand in the UK, they also set a new standard for ethical business practices around the world. In acknowledgement of the company’s equitable business model, in 2008 DIVINE was named Best Ethical Business by The Observer newspaper, a renowned publication in the UK.

Indeed, as of 2010, DIVINE had further entrenched its Fair Trade commitments and positively impacted the culture of fairness in trade between developed and developing countries. The company purchased its first container of cocoa from the Republic of Sierra Leone’s only Fair Trade certified co-op, Kpeya Agricultural Enterprise (KAE). Due in part to DIVINE’s Fair Trade success, Cadbury Plc – the second largest confectionery manufacture in the world – converted 20% of its chocolate to Fair Trade.

With ethically produced, top quality chocolate ingrained into its production processes, in 2010 DIVINE was a US $25 million company in the UK and US $4 million company in the USA. KUAPA’s membership, meanwhile, has grown to 45,000 farmers representing over 1,200 villages in Ghana who are deeply involved in community organization, Fair Trade income, and the prospects of its DIVINE chocolate bar. 

A fair and ethical brand new mission

KUAPA began as a mission to instill a sense of pride in its farmers, a taste of quality in its products, and a desire for equity with its consumers. In so doing, the co-operative re-wrote business models for success and launched into a competitive market with a powerful brand protected by trademarks.  Subsequently, the cooperative’s farmers have seen their income and bargaining power increased, their products successfully marketed, and its profits re-invested in the community.