Special focus: Divine marks 25th anniversary in fine style

Celebrating its 25th anniversary, Divine Chocolate’s part farmer-owned model is continuing its mission placing those producers at the heart of the business. Neill Barston speaks to Troy Pearley, the company’s US executive vice president and general manager, at this year’s Sweets & Snacks Expo, on its key challenges ahead

Making a difference to agricultural communities that are right at the heart of the confectionery supply chain remains critical to Divine Chocolate’s sustainability mission. This year is of particular importance, as it marks its 25th anniversary, with the company being especially proud of its Fairtrade status and partial ownership by Kuapa Kokoo co-operative farmers. As if to underline its credentials, the business has been certified as a B-corp enterprise delivering enhanced standards of environmentally and socially progressive operating standards, that are aiming to help drive systemic change within the industry.

This is reflected in the brand’s portfolio of more than 13 flavours, spanning dark, milk and white chocolate imprinted with its mission statement, which asserts that it is determined to tackle exploitation within the sector in relation to key human rights and environmental concerns. It’s clearly a mission that Troy Pearley, the company’s executive vice president and general manager for North America, remains especially passionate about. Speaking to Confectionery Production at Sweets & Snacks Expo, he reflected on its major 25th anniversary milestone. He said: “I am just happy to be here – I’ve been fortunate to have spent the past ten years of my career helping build the brand.

Currently we have national distribution and it’s not hard to find our product in places like New York, Chicago, out in California, and even co-ops in other parts of the country, so this is an exciting time. Being a B-corp company, we have Fairtrade credentials. It’s fun and we have a good space,” he enthused on its development.

There has of course been plenty of hard work behind the scenes across its teams in seeking to drive momentum for its goals that address inequalities within the supply chain, including child labour issues and environmental concerns around deforestation that remain large factors for the wider industry.

Industry challenges ahead

As he’s previously stated on surrounding its rebrand, “When it comes to chocolate, small choices create big changes,” on how consumers’ decisions to support companies that are highlighting social inequality, it ultimately helps drive awareness and standards to new levels. “I think it’s very critical to the business that we are co-owned by farmers – we want to do something disruptive in the industry, and buying our chocolate is built on something different through the farmer ownership model, and giving those producers that ownership is something that is pretty cool,” he added of its approach to empowering its partner communities in Ghana.

“I’ve not managed to go over there since Covid-19, but it is very significant for us to go over there and meet the families that are producing for our chocolate, to meet those people there who are just trying to get their children through school – they are just everyday people. It’s been a very humbling experience the few times that I have been there,” he said of its operations in West Africa, which includes working with its Kuapa Kokoo co-operative based within Kumasi, Ghana.

As he explained, while the company does not actually manufacture chocolate in the region, he added that high ethical standards are maintained by its production teams at Weinrich (a majority shareholder in the business), which has been among pioneers of developing sustainable chocolate for the past two decades, with over a century of manufacturing experience. In regard to its processes, the company uses Fairtrade beans containing 100 per cent pure cocoa butter, only natural flavours and ingredients, and does not use palm oil, soy, or any GMOs.

Notably, its products are vegetarian, with vegan-suitable options available. Being a B-Corporation certified company, the packaging of the bars has been designed to be plastic-free, and also features recyclable foil and paper. “It’s been a great response here at Sweets & Snacks – I just spoke to the head of the National Confectioners Association, John Downs, who told me it has had its highest ever attendance this year with over 16,000 people here, so this is a huge show. “We had a critical mass of visitors here the other day and lots this morning, and we anticipate some great things happening in the near future,” added Troy of the show’s final year of being hosted in Chicago.

Prior to his work for Divine, he has enjoyed an especially notable career having worked to help expand the Godiva premium chocolate brand, as well as launching Ghirardelli Chocolate in the New York market. Beyond his own work with the company, he occupies several key strategic board
level roles at the NCA, Fairtrade America, as well as co-chairing the Chocolate Council, supporting the industry at large.

Fairtrade connections
But as for his own business, he added it is the connection with Fairtrade that is among the most significant aspects in helping deliver on its ambitious targets. “I think that with the way the world is now, with consumers taking a position on brands, I think that Fairtrade it is very important that we view it positively,” he added on Divine’s engagement with the global movement that, as with its own goals, actively seeks to improve the lives of farming groups that it works with directly. As he acknowledges, being part of the organisation’s board and its team of experts has also enhanced his own understanding of the challenges faced by many farming communities.

We have our co-op partners owning 20 per cent of the company, and we source from a specific region and work in that community to ensure that we are moving in the right direction – whether that’s literacy programmes, labour programmes and just try to invest in those communities – we have to do a deep dive into those places so that we can continue to evolve, and get better at what we are doing.” On the issue of child labour particularly, I ask him how the industry at large can best tackle the situation where there are still 1.5 million children across Ghana and Ivory Coast who are subject to hazardous labour tasks relating to cocoa production.

“This figure on child labour has to come down – we can send people to the moon, we have things like AI, but it has to be a concerted effort by stakeholders to change that. I think it’s great that being a Fairtrade brand we are putting stops in place on governance, and we monitor it, and help co-operatives to be more structured. But those numbers have to come down, and I think the way the world is evolving in human rights, that will happen. But again, chocolate companies working at origin and we have to do this as a collective effort,” he concluded on what remains perhaps the largest industry-wide task at hand in terms of improving conditions in the core cocoa communities

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