We recently hosted Jo Fairley, co-founder of Green & Black’s, for our third CP Talks event. CP Talks is an event series we’ve created to help entrepreneurs and business owners from across the Midlands connect, network and be inspired.
Jo Fairley began by declaring, “I am a chocoholic,” before talking about how she discovered the “naughtiest, darkest and most delicious chocolate” she’d ever tasted, which became the Green & Black’s we know, on her husband’s desk. And how being an ethical business wasn’t necessarily a strategic decision. It was something the husband and wife founders realised they were “just doing.”
Of course, there were some challenges along the way to building an almost £100m turnover business. The brand launched into a crowded market. A few years in, they had growing pains and needed extra investment. And in 2005 they were acquired by Cadbury and needed to protect the Green & Black’s values that had made them so successful. Jo also mentioned there are five pillars behind building a global, ethical brand. And here they are:
“We had an amazing product,” Jo said. “And this made it so easy in so many ways.” Jo talked about how the “Black” in Green & Black’s exists because they launched their chocolate as the darkest on the market. She said, “When you have that faith in your product and you believe it’s the best, it’s much easier to sell it. If you haven’t got that conviction, then you have to work to make it the best to help your customers believe that too.”
Branding and Design
Jo and her husband, Craig Sams, who’s also the founder of Whole Earth Foods thought of the brand name on a rainy Saturday night in their Portobello Road apartment. They wanted a brand name that sounded like an old, established confectionary brand. “Green” was chosen because of the organic nature of their chocolate. And the ampersand? Think Fortnum & Mason, Ben & Jerry’s – Jo said, “It just makes it sound like quality.”
They then wrote stories on their packaging. “Because what else was packaging used for?” Their packaging talked about the importance of Fairtrade. It featured stories about families and children, and how their work had helped farmers in lesser economically developed countries. Jo said, “You need a product that looks fantastic, but brand ethos is beginning to matter more and more to people.”
Public Relations (PR)
Having worked in journalism prior to Green & Black’s, Jo knew what pushed journalists’ buttons. So when starting out, she wrote a press release and sent it to everyone she knew. The headline? “Guilt-free chocolate. Well, almost.” It received its first coverage six weeks later in The Independent newspaper. Although Jo said, “The real reason we got noticed was that I accompanied every press release with several bars of dark chocolate!”
Two years later, they launched their first bar with the Fairtrade mark. And even Vicar’s started lobbying Tesco bosses to stock the ethical chocolate. It just proves it helps to have people onside, whoever they are!
“We made the decision to outsource everything we weren’t great at,” said Jo. This was so Jo and Craig could focus on their strengths – the PR, the marketing and the customer experience. Not manufacturing chocolate. They enlisted the help of the best chocolatier out there, with its HQ on the shores of Lake Como, Italy. All of this allowed them to focus on the things they were great at – creating and supplying a great product and brand experience.
Jo said she wanted to “change the world, one square of chocolate at a time.” She also spoke about how increasingly, people want meaning in their lives – at work and at home. When a company has values like Green & Black’s, it helps attract and retain talent. It’s engaging not just for customers but their people too.
She also said brand values “help you to look at your business from afar. Through a telescope, rather than a microscope.” And added that’s what “nights like CP Talks offers…”
“At the start of Green & Black’s, I’ll never forget when I went to listen to someone speak. To see how I might do things differently. Sometimes you feel like a lone fish in business, swimming up-stream. But events like this make you realise you’re actually part of a shoal.”