By: Kat Bein By: Kat Bein | February 9, 2022 | Food & Drink
Chocolate is simply divine, but when it comes sourced and co-owned by 100,000 cocoa farmers in Ghana, then that’s Divine Chocolate with a capital D.
For nearly 25 years, Divine Chocolate has crafted premium chocolate bars and products that blend time-honored techniques with modern flavor profiles. One bite of Divine’s chocolate, and you’ll taste the difference, but the difference that really matters comes in the company’s dedication to fair trade practices and home-grown community.
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“I've worked for a couple of Fortune 100 companies, and I've had a great deal of success with them, but this work I'm doing now is really meaningful work,” Troy Pearley, the EVP and GM for Divine Chocolate North America says. “Having the opportunity to hear things from a farmer's perspective, from a producer's perspective—and every bar that we sell truly having a positive impact on farmers’ lives. We’re fighting exploitation in the cocoa industry, and that's way cool.”
Taking the call from his hometown in Brooklyn, we spoke to Pearley to learn more about Divine’s mission and why chocolate with a clear conscience tastes extra sweet.
Talk to me about the inception of Divine Chocolate.
Well, the company was founded in 1998, so we're coming up on a quarter century in 2023. Kuapa Kokoo is a co-owner along with Ludwig Weinrich out of Germany. We source from Kuapa Kokoo, that's 100,000 Ghanaian farmers. It's a large co-operative and we're a fair trade brand. Kuapa was founded in 1993, and in 1997 Kuapa decided they wanted to open a chocolate company. They voted at the annual general meeting, and Divine was formed in 1998 in the U.K. with the help of some of our trade partners Twin Trading, Christian Aid, Comic Relief and The Body Shop. Fast forward 24 years, we're doing business in North America, the U.K., and around 2019, we picked up some territory in Sweden, so we have a small presence in Sweden also.
A cooperative of 100,000 farmers, that's incredible. I know Ghana is a major hub for Divine, but are the farmers spread out in other areas as well?
Kuapa Kokoo is in Ghana. They co-own the company. We also have an organic line that's sourced out of São Tomé, and we work with fair trade sugar farms in Malawi.
Divine is a B Corp, which means it is certified for social and environmental performance. How do Divine and Kuapa earn that certification?
Well, it's a rigorous process. You apply, and they ask questions in terms of where you are in terms of sustainability, down to how you recycle in your office. It's [about] sourcing practices, gender-equality practices, all of the above. I'm proud to say that, for the last couple of years, we've been voted best of the world. That's a huge honor, because there's probably 77 countries and about 4,000 companies that make up B Corp. It's a huge consortium. I'm proud of my team.
Everybody talks about diversity and all these buzzwords, but that's our ethos. Half of the folks that work for me are female. We have African-Americans. We have LGBT representation on the team, and we're very mindful of that. We do it deliberately, and I think our mindfulness on how we go to market has definitely been a key to our success.
How does co-ownership benefit the farmers?
It’s like the saying, “you're either at the table or you're being served for dinner at the table.” To have a 40 percent representation on the board and 20 percent ownership means the decisions we make are based on their input, because it's going to impact them.
We also do producer support and development programs, literacy programs and all these programs that the farmers and producers have chosen to call out like, "hey, this is what we need to work on.” It's improving the communities. Having that voice gives them a leg up in terms of managing their lives versus being exploited. In the big scheme of things, cocoa farmers are at the bottom of the chain. I would say commodity farmers, not just cocoa, but also bananas, coffee. It's tough for those guys.
Which is kind of backwards, right? They’re really the foundation of whatever is being sold.
Absolutely backwards, so having that ownership stake really means a lot. They're making decisions for themselves. I don't speak on behalf of them. I just repeat what I learned from them, basically.
Have you had the chance to go to Ghana and meet the farmers yourself?
I've been to Ghana a couple of times and sat in a couple of literacy program courses. I was taken aback about how candid the women in the course were talking. One woman said she had to have a conversation with her daughter to explain It's okay to be a young mother and get married if that's something that you would like to do, but you need to know that you have choices. Of course I was in the corner crying because it was just powerful. I’ve been able to read street signs since I was three or four years old. To hear this adult woman talk about how reading has changed her life, it just was so powerful. It made me come back home to work harder, because it's working. We're doing something positive.
I also love that the chocolate doesn't use palm oil, because I know that's really difficult to get away from.
Our chocolate is all natural and non GMO. People are making choices now, so we had the opportunity to pause and reset during this pandemic, and people are now making choices and doing things differently. Hopefully, our products fall in line with people that are making conscious choices about what they put in their body and what type of brand they want to support. I think Divine is in a good space, because we're not trying to do something new. This is what we've been doing for 25 years.
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It's also very smooth and quite decadent.
Well, the factory it's made at is over 100 years old. Weinrich has been in business since 1895, and it's been a carbon neutral factory since 2016. So, the short answer is just expertise. They're experts at making premium quality chocolate products. So in terms of flavor profiles, we have the traditional flavor profiles; the 85 percent dark or 70 percent dark, but I think what separates Divine is that we offer variety versus duplication. We have fun, nice flavors like the white strawberry or ginger orange or dark raspberry. Next week we're doing the global launch of the milk and dark super fruits. This is the first time we're going to have three flavors in one bar. There will be elderberries, cranberries and blackcurrants.
I was going to ask you, what's next?
Dark super fruits! Gotta go support. We’re in 45,000-plus retail outlets. We’re sold on Amazon and Whole Foods Market. We’re in Rite Aid. We’re in Walgreens, and if you're going to the airport, it's easy to find our chocolate.
I'm very proud of the farmer ownership piece with the producers having a voice, and I'm equally as proud of being a social enterprise. It's cool that I run a company and I get to meet nice people like you, sit on boards and talk with thought leaders in the industry, but running a social enterprise is really cool, because it's about the people and at the end of the day, people make the difference from the farmers of Kuapa to the people that report to me. I would go so far to say I lead the number one social enterprise in the world—and that's way cool.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Visit Divine online to shop the latest flavors and learn more.
Photography by: Courtesy of Divine Chocolate