I was born in Nebraska on a farm during World War 2. After the
war we lived in California, then England, then in
Omaha, where I learnt the fundamentals of business
as a paperboy for the Omaha World Herald, then back
in England, then the Wharton School at the University
of Pennsylvania. In 1966 my Uncle Floyd offered me
a deal on 1000 acres of rich riverside land in Iowa
and a 700 head beef feedlot if I would join him in
the farming business after I graduated from the Wharton
School. Instead, like many of my contemporaries, I
discovered the macrobiotic diet and developed an awareness
of the unsustainability, both in terms of human health
and of the environment, of the way that food and farming
was going. I didnt want to be part of the problem
and I aspired to help bring about the solution.
So, way back in 1967, in partnership
with my brother Gregory, I set up a macrobiotic restaurant
in London, 2 years later a retail store, another year
later and we had a branded brown rice and macrobiotic
foods packing operation under the Whole Earth brand.
By the late 1970s our Whole Earth peanut butter was
in several major supermarkets and we launched the
worlds first range of fruit juice sweetened
jams. Look at that alongside my wholewheat bakery
business and you had all the ingredients for the best
peanut butter and jelly sandwiches Im
afraid that much of my product development has just
been about finding healthy and organic alternatives
to my favourite foods, then marketing them on the
assumption that enough people will come into the niche
I have also been involved with the
Soil Association since that time, and am now its chair.
The Soil Association is Britains organic food
and farming organisation, , researching, lobbying,
campaigning and also providing a certification service.
Our patron is the Prince of Wales and he is also,
and this is unprecedented, the chairman of our Appeal
Board we are about to launch a major fundraising
campaign. Im also the author of The Little Food
Book, which is a clear and concise overview of all
the key food related issues of our time. Available
from Amazon and good bookshops. The American edition
is coming out this Fall.
In 1991 our company Whole Earth Foods
launched Green & Blacks brand organic dark
chocolate made with organic cocoa beans grown in Togo,
Green & Blacks was a high
quality product in its own right, the first ever 70%
cocoa solids chocolate to be sold in the UK. It happened
to be organic and fairly traded, too, because the
cocoa beans were a product of a 1980s French foreign
aid project to stop environmental degradation in Togos
So who were Mr
Green and Mr Black?
We had a strong brand already with Whole Earth
so we were tempted to use that brand on the chocolate,
but all our packaging boasted no added sugar
so there was no way we could use this well-respected
no sugar brand for a product that was 30% sugar. Also
you can only stretch a brand so far before it loses
its meaning and we already had organic baked beans,
peanut butter, jam, bread, cola drinks, ramen, noodles
brown rice and spaghetti sauce all crowding under
the umbrella of the Whole Earth brand. Chocolate really
was a category too far.
So one evening my wife Josephine Fairley
and I put on our brainstorming caps. We dismissed
all the obvious green names such as ecochoc,
biochoc, Natures Choc or chocorganico. We wanted
something classier and with depth. Something that
sounded like it had been around for a long time and
was resolutely English. With Green we alluded to the
organicness of the product without being too preachy
and with Blacks we referenced the ultra
darkness of the product. Black is also a fashion colour
- it implies style, elegance, no compromise. Also,
we were export oriented and needed a name that could
be pronounced in any European language. Whole Earth
had been a nightmare in this respect, particularly
Green & Blacks had the right
ring. I rushed down to my computer, knocked up a rough
design in 10 minutes and ran it off on my new colour
printer. That still is the basic design of the packaging
to this day.
It was not easy to sell chocolate in
the natural foods sector, however organic and delicious,
because there was strong ethical resistance to any
product containing sugar a resistance that
we had done more than anyone else to foster. Since
the 1960s Whole Earth had never used sugar in any
of its products. But we gradually broke down this
barrier, in part because we confronted the issue head
on and printed a sugar health warning on the early
packaging next to the ingredients list. It stated
n.b. this product contains sugar, which is associated
with dental decay, obesity and obesity related illness.
Enjoy good chocolate and keep your sugar consumption
as low as possible by always choosing Green &
Blacks, the chocolate with the highest cocoa
solids and the lowest sugar content.
The chocolate also sold well at Villandry,
the Conran Shop, Harvey Nichols and Harrods, capturing
Londons retail high ground. It was the first
70% solids eating chocolate and its rich flavour had
instant gourmet appeal.
We had presented the product to Sainsburys
which at that time was Britains leading
supermarket chain. Soon after Fate intervened when
one evening a bar of Green & Blacks was
being passed around at a Kensington dinner party and
the guests asked Sir John Sainsbury why his Sainsburys
stores didnt stock this delicious chocolate.
His wife asked him the same question, quite persistently
weve been told, and the next day he asked his
chocolate buyer about it, who could honestly say that
he was on the case and had a sample on his desk, sir.
We quickly got a listing in 20 stores and we grasped
this opportunity to prove ourselves in the mass market.
Although quality and flavour were our
two main marketable attributes in terms of repeat
purchases, we educated the press and consumers on
the ethical issues, emphasising the benefits to the
African producers. In 1992 we were the first company
to win the Ethical Consumers Award and gained the
important support of the Womens Environmental
Network. Chocolate has for various reasons, a particular
appeal to women. Ours was politically right on the
button. One of the reasons women crave it sometimes
is that it is Natures most concentrated source
of magnesium, which relieves premenstrual tension.
With Green & Blacks you get far and away
the highest ratio of magnesium of any chocolate.
Because we paid fair and fixed prices
and the growers were not exposed to dangerous chemicals
we were guilt free and Togolese matriarchs benefited
from the sale of every bar. A headline in The Independent
summed it up: Right on And It Tastes
My wife Jo was a green journalist, with
a TV show on British Sky Broadcasting and a column
in the Times, so she and I had the right credentials
in the deep green community who were our core customers.
Sales were taking off and we launched
a milk chocolate in 1993.
Then A crisis!
There was a revolution in Togo when the military government
refused to step down, despite losing the election.
They shot up the suburbs of Lome and the French cut
off aid, precipitating a strike at the ports because
nobody was getting paid. We had to fly a container
of cocoa beans out to our co packer in France and
then fly the freshly made chocolate to Gatwick Airport,
where a van was waiting to rush it to make our 2:30
delivery slot at Sainsburys. We didnt
need more of that kind of stress. So I started looking
for a backup supply source in a more stable political
In 1993 I contacted some old friends among the Maya
in Belize and found that there was an opportunity
to build a new relationship and launch a new product
that could be the embodiment of organic and fair trade
principles. There had been a cacao planting project
there already and it was a classic example of the
old development paradigm that is still being repeated
Started by Britains Department for International
Development in 1983 and taken over by USAID in 1986,
the scheme was built on providing bank loans to encourage
farmers to buy hybrid seeds and agrichemicals. Communal
reservation land had to be broken up so that farmers
could deposit deeds at the bank as collateral. It
was based on clearing the forest and planting cacao
trees very closely - as little as 8 to 10 feet apart.
At this spacing there is little room for shade trees
and fertilisers are essential, as are fungicides.
The economics of the programme were carefully worked
out, but everything stood on the foundation of a $1.75
per lb selling price, guaranteed by Hershey.
The programme finished in 1992 and the
aid workers went off.
In October 1993 I spoke by phone to Justino Peck,
the Chairman of the Toledo Cacao Growers Association
(TCGA), the cooperative that represents the Maya Indian
cacao growers of southern Belize. At that time they
were facing serious problems.
As soon as the aid workers had gone Hersheys
buying agent progressively reduced the price paid
from $1.80 to $1.25 to 90¢ to 70¢ and finally
to 55¢ a pound. This took place as the trees
that had been planted were maturing, and farmers were
confronted with the desperate need to make money to
pay back the debts they had incurred at the local
bank under the USAID-supported loan scheme. Many had
to leave home to seek migrant work as orange pickers
or sugar cane cutters on plantations in the north,
just to earn enough money to service their debts and
support their families in their home villages.
By 1993 total production had fallen to less than 20,000
lbs, generating a net income locally of only $11000.
This was a disaster. People were abandoning their
plantations and the jungle was taking over.
When we came along we needed a relationship that embodied
that key word SUSTAINABILITY. This was as important
for us as a business as it was for our codependent
producers. What does this mean in practice?
Rural poverty i.e. starvation, makes people migrate
to cities, where they lead miserable lives. So we
had to set a fair price that made it worthwhile to
Food quality and food safety are sustainability issues
because they impinge directly on human health.
Hungry people get ill especially if they are
regularly exposed to pesticides. The production of
food has to be safe for the producers. It also has
to be safe for consumers. You still regularly find
lindane traces in conventional chocolate, despite
it being banned in California, New York and throughout
Europe because of its proven causative link to breast
The planet has limited resources and were using
them up at an increasing rate. We need food production
systems that preserve or augment the soil, increase
biodiversity and restore forest cover, not the reverse.
Consumers dont want to be part of the problem.
They want manufacturers to help them be part of the
solution to these problems and to relieve their feelings
of despair, pessimism and helplessness over the disappearance
of rain forests and indigenous cultures and global
Organic farming delivers on all the above it
locks up carbon in the soil to the tune of 1 tonne
per hectare per year, it stops erosion, it reduces
greenhouse gas output, it eliminates pollution and
it restores biodiversity. You get forest canopy into
the bargain. Eventually the shade trees provide a
secondary income that, over a 30 year period, can
dwarf the income from cacao, especially if you grow
mahogany or red cedar.
TOLEDO CACAO GROWERS ASSOCIATION
We worked out a new deal for a new product concept
- MAYA GOLD - and made an offer to the TCGA.
1. A five year rolling contract to be our primary
supplier of organically grown cacao for use in Maya
Gold chocolate, paying $1.75 per pound
2. We helped them to obtain organic certification,
a valuable asset in the Northern European market.
Even if we fell by the wayside, this would still stand
them in good stead with other purchasers.
3. We advanced them $20000 in cash so that the farmer
members were guaranteed spot cash for
the cacao they brought in.
4. We trained key coop members in management accounting,
correct fermentation and quality control to ensure
the best quality cacao. A true quality chocolate cannot
be made with just any old beans, especially a 70%
cocoa mass product.
The deal was agreed and signed. Some
British and UN aid workers there advised the Maya
strongly against going ahead with us and particularly
against going organic, which they said would be a
disaster. However, we were offering 3 times the price,
reduced chemical input costs and cash up front, so
for the Maya it was a no brainer.
The Soil Association inspection was a success.
We also discovered that Big Falls Plantation, a large
citrus plantation owned by the Commonwealth Development
Corporation and controlled by the Department for International
Development, had 70 acres of highly productive cacao
which they found uneconomic to harvest. The manager
had allowed a local womens cooperative, the
Poyonaam Womens Group (Poyonaam = People of
the Earth), to harvest the cacao, which they had done
profitably in 1993.
POYONAAM WOMENS GROUP
But the CDC were talking about clearing it to plant
grapefruit. We begged them to hold off and they referred
me to their London HQ, but agreed to let the women
take off the 1994 crop. We saw this as a great element
in the story we had to tell as the leader of the women,
Juanita Chee, was a charismatic and dynamic individual.
Things went well, from the producer point of view.
The quantity and value of the cacao increased. Gross
area income from cacao in 1993 of $11000 has grown
by more than ten times and is now rising even more
How did we do it? What made Maya Gold a success?
Before we discussed anything with the TCGA, we discussed
the Maya Gold concept with Sainsburys. They
liked the idea and agreed to stock the product for
six months when it was ready.
THE FAIRTRADE MARK
We also sought and gained Fairtrade Mark certification.
The Fairtrade Foundation had been brought into existence
by organisations such as Oxfam, Christian Aid, and
the Womens Institutes to provide an independent
third party consumer guarantee that a Third World
product was genuinely traded according to internationally
agreed fair trade principles. Maya Gold was the first
product to bear the Mark. Various companies had looked
at it and dismissed it as impractical. We took one
look at the criteria there was nothing there
that we hadnt already done.
Maya Gold was launched on March 7 1994 at a press
conference at the Oxfam stand at the BBC Good Food
Show in London. The same day BBC Newsround sent a
film crew to Belize and came back with footage of
Maya villagers harvesting cacao, and of their kids
sitting licking their lips over the very first bars
of Maya Gold, which we had given the film crew to
take to Belize with them.
The several minutes of footage was on the afternoon
and evening television news. It even made it onto
Welsh language TV and CNN picked up on it and told
the story worldwide.
Young Methodists did an Olympic style run for fair
trade, carrying a torch in relays between various
English towns, haranguing supermarkets and shops to
stock our product. The senior confectionery buyer
at Tesco our biggest supermarket chain, phoned
up to ask Here, whats this product all
these vicars are calling me up about? You better come
in and see me.
GREEN & BLACKS
We faced a few setbacks in Belize.
Regrettably, the CDC owned Big Falls Plantation decided
to bulldoze the cacao, thereby depriving the Poyonaam
women of a potential $22000 per year income.
My efforts on behalf of the Poyonaam women had been
rebuffed and grapefruit was planted in the place of
mature cacao. It turned out to be a lousy call on
their part as grapefruit prices collapsed just as
their new trees reached maturity.
The WHO malaria control programme in the district
had a policy of spraying with DDT any houses and areas
where malaria had been notified, and this posed a
risk of contamination organic cacao. A few cases of
contamination could have led to the loss of organic
certification for the whole project. After much pressure
from us, the health workers agreed to give 2 weeks
notice of their intention to spray so that villagers
could get their cocoa sacks, as well as their children
and animals, out of the way before the sprayers come.
Now the Maya have persuaded them to stop spraying
altogether - malaria is not a problem and DDT
poisoning is a thing of the past.
There have been considerable unforeseen social as
well as economic gains.
The production of cacao strengthens the position of
women. Unlike rice, the important part of cacao production
is the post-harvest processing. This is where women
play a key role. The mens role tends to be to
plant, prune, harvest and bring the pods back to the
village. The fermentation of the beans takes place
in boxes next to the village houses and takes five
days. Once the cacao is fermented, it must be dried
in the sun, turned as needed, and brought in if it
starts to rain. Women control both these processing
operations. The result is that they get their hands
on the cash generated by cacao, and this share in
the wealth confers domestic and community power. Too
often the cash from a crop of rice doesnt find
its way into the family budget - the man may spend
it on beer or tools or a hybrid pig and enough Purina
Chow to fatten it up.
Secondary education in Belize is free, but the nearest
high school is in Punta Gorda town, 20 miles from
the villages in the Maya Mountains. With only 2 busses
a week, students had to board with families in Punta
Gorda, at a significant cost. As a result of increased
cacao income, many more students started going to
high school, and there were so many doing so that
a bus service was instituted on a daily basis to take
them to school and back. Secondary education has increased
from 10% of the kids to more than 70%.
Migratory bird populations have increased dramatically,
reflecting increased forest cover and reduced pesticide
residues. The Audubon Society and Flora and Fauna
International have both recognised this and have asked
us to extend the project into nature reserves that
they control in Belize.
The TCGA has also become one of the main uniting forces
in a community where there are two distinct cultural
and language groups: the Kekchi Maya and their neighbours
the Mopan Maya. Within the TCGA there is one shared
goal - to sell Green & Blacks as much good
quality cacao as possible and to earn as much money
as they can for their membership. As with most free
commercial activity, racial and religious considerations
take second place to devotion to the almighty dollar.
The leaders of the TCGA have become respected figures
in their local communities, consulting to ensure that
the Maya speak with one voice on matters where their
community has hitherto often been weak and divided.
A few years ago a corrupt government natural resources
minister took a bribe to permit a Taiwanese logging
company to extract timber from 250,000 acres of pristine
forest in the Maya Mountains. The strength of collaboration
on the cacao project meant that the Kekchi and Mopan
could not be set against each other on the logging
proposal and they united successfully, under the cacao
project leadership, to defeat it. The rain forest
has been saved.
Not all the growers are Maya. There are white Americans
and blacks of African origin and East Asians who are
members of the coop. For them all it is a novel experience
to work in situations where the Maya are in charge.
The Maya, like most native Americans, were seen as
the bottom of the pack. Now they are setting up outlying
buying depots in non-Maya regions and impress everyone
with their competence, confidence and their efficient
handling of cocoa beans and money.
HERBICIDE FREE RIVERS
Every Maya village is sited on a river, which serves
as bath and laundry. Skin diseases, rashes and blisters
are a thing of the past now that chemical use has
been abandoned. Even rice growers have now developed
chemical free methods of production.
The women keep an eye on the fermentation, which takes
place under the thatched eaves of village houses and
of the drying, which takes place on groundsheets outside
the houses. Fermentation of cocoa beans is a sophisticated
art the subtle variations between different
batches are part of what gives complexity and character
to our chocolate.
GREEN & BLACKS
As I mentioned earlier, in 1993 the UK development
aid people in Belize advised the growers not to go
organic and not to sign our contract. They have now
had a good rethink on this policy. Last year they
UK Governments Department for International
Development gave us a £240,000 grant to help
develop even more organic cocoa production in Belize.
Fauna and Flora International have supported the growers
cooperative with training and computers. A Dutch charity
gave them a further £40000 to develop tree nurseries.
We chipped in £240,000 of our own money for
the project. The result- 100,000 new cacao trees planted
since last October, plus double that number as shade
trees to form a future rain forest canopy and wildlife
habitat. 550,000 seedlings in the nurseries, ready
to be planted out in the next few years.
TUBE CARD EXECUTIONS
Last year we decided it was time to advertise, at
least in London, where we had the distribution and
the consumer profile that justified a spend. So in
March and October last year and last March we spent
about £400,000 on a Londonwide advertising campaign,
focusing on the Underground. We had 2 ad cards in
every carriage of every train in the system, as well
as cross track posters and some saturation escalator
posters. Somehow we managed to seem better than our
competitors - without seeming holier than thou, pious
LONDON UNDERGROUND DISCOVERY
Again, we emphasise the difference without being too
blatant. The woman has just tasted Green & Blacks
for the first time drops her shopping, the
world drifts by as she is swallowed up in the experience.
Later on shell read the wrapper more closely
and discover its organic, fairtrade and ethical virtues,
right now shes just having a be here now
chocolate moment. Michael Pollan, writing in the New
York Times, postulated that chocolate attaches to
the same receptors as marijuana, but instead of stimulating
them it slows them down. So instead of losing short
term memory and being cool you wallow
in short term memory and the emotions they contain
and become sensual and sentimental. Hence chocolates
popularity in romantic situations, particularly Valentines
GREEN & BLACKS EVOLUTION
So where are we now?
In 1999, as an undercapitalised entrepreneur, I had
pretty much gone as far as I could go with our limited
financial resources and in the face of the need to
become increasingly professional. With Whole Earth
and Green & Blacks we had a couple of $10
million brands but lacked the resources to maximise
their growth potential. So when William Kendall, who
had just built up and sold the New Covent Garden Soup
Company a year earlier, offered to buy a 75% share
in Green & Blacks I said yes. With an infusion
of new capital and highly motivated top calibre management
we have maintained a growth rate of 50% per annum.
Last year we sold off the Whole Earth brand and in
Green & Blacks alone we now have an $80
million brand, but expect it to double again in the
next two years. Several of our new management team
were INSEAD graduates and all had blue chip backgrounds
such as Glaxo, KPMG, Tesco and United Biscuits. The
new team got stuck right into the ethical core of
the business from day one. In fact they joined the
company precisely because they wanted to work in an
ethical environment but also had normal healthy professional
ambitions and saw joining us as a strategic career
move. In the war for talent to get the best employees,
what would well have been a negative a few years earlier
was an extra magnet. More recently we have attracted
key sales people from Lindt, our main competitor in
the premium chocolate market these are sales
people who know how to sell chocolate and could see
which way the wind is blowing.
We are also taking off in the USA. In the UK we had
first mover advantage which can never be underestimated
in achieving a strong market position.
However in the US we came into the market late.
Just over a year ago in the organic market we had
climbed into 5th place behind Newmans Own
whose message is they give their profits to charity,
Endangered Species, who give a percentage of sales
to wildlife charities, Sharffenberger based
in Berkeley and very foodie and hip, and Chocolove
who major on being Belgian and luxurious. That was
With 380% year on year growth weve moved up
the charts. In the 4 weeks to the end of February
we were the Number 2 brand, just behind Newmans
TOP TEN SKUS
Our latest research from SPINS, the natural sector
version of Neilsens shows that with only 40%
penetration, compared to 90% for Newmans and Endangered
Species, in the 4 week period ending February 21st
this year our dark chocolate was the best selling
single product. Last month we went into all branches
of Wild Oats, a 100-supermarket natural food chain
so I can say with some confidence that we are
now Americas leading organic chocolate brand
and we still have barely 50% market penetration.
Its also worth noting here that all the top
selling SKUs in the US natural foods market are dark
chocolate. When you look at the chocolate market overall
90% of all chocolate sold is milk chocolate.
In the natural and organic market consumers are well
ensconced at the gourmet, quality, intense flavour
end of the spectrum.
Last year Cadbury Schweppes bought the shares of the
business. have been committed to supporting the Green
& Black's principles in respect of organics, fair
trade and corporate social responsibility. Some people
have said that ultimately we will have engineered
a sort of reverse take over, on a cultural level,
of the worlds largest confectionery company.
Remember that they were founded on the Quaker belief
that a steaming cup of cocoa would help wean the working
classes off beer and gin. There are still no pubs
in Bournville, the town they built as their corporate
HQ, manufacturing base and for housing their workers!
When youre doing something good its best
not to brag about it much better if you can
just let your reputation precede you. There are plenty
of people in the social responsibility business who
can give you a good reference, starting with certifying
NGOs such as the Soil Association, the Fairtrade Foundation,
the Forestry Stewardship Council and Ethical Consumers
Association. Government initiatives, like the failing
European Eco Label, dont inspire consumer trust.
NGOs do. The press never tire of a good story about
how you can do good and do well at the same time.
1994 was the 10th anniversary of Maya Gold and of
the Fairtrade Foundation. During March we had 100s
of volunteers in shops up and down the country sampling
our Maya Gold chocolate, giving their time freely
to support our work. The press coverage weve
had has been extraordinary and is generating even
more. For those among you who were in Britain and
saw this barrage of publicity - I hope you agree that,
like our chocolate, it was all done in the very best
The Observer Food Monthly sent Andrew
Purvis to Belize to see how things were going and
his report is at: http://observer.guardian.co.uk/foodmonthly/story/0,,1781908,00.html
Visit the Green & Black's web site