Divine Chocolate CEO Sophi Tranchell steps down as company is acquired by Ludwig Weinrich

Divine Chocolate has confirmed it now has a new majority shareholder, Ludwig Weinrich, as the company’s first MD and CEO, Sophi Tranchell steps down from the British-founded business after 21 years.

As UK-headquartered Divine explained, Weinrich, a German-based firm with a specialist focus on private label ranges, has manufactured ranges for the UK company since it was established in 1998.

Consequently, Kuapa Kokoo, the farmers’ co-operative in Ghana, that was a founding shareholder, will still own 20% of the shares and continue to have board representation. This means that the Divine brand and the unique business model with farmers at the heart will continue to deliver seriously good chocolate that empowers both producers and consumers.

The agreement also ensures the company can continue its commitment to Fairtrade, a sustainable and traceable supply chain, and distribution to all its customers and supporters around the world. It will continue to remain committed to delivering positive impact for farmers in Africa. Its report from 2018-2019 can be viewed here.

During her two decades with Divine, Sophi Tranchell, had been a significant influence on its policy of Fairtrade, and of women achieving equality, particularly farmers in the chocolate supply chain. As the business noted, she has consistently demonstrated that things no-one thought possible can be done – starting with creating a chocolate company that turned ‘business-as-usual’ on its head by making farmers the biggest shareholders.

Commenting on her decision Tranchell said: “I am immensely proud of Divine, what it stands for and what it has achieved. With a great team, and investors who had the vision and patience to support us, we set out to make a real difference in the chocolate industry – a real transition towards more equitable trade that could never again be un-done. I believe Divine has led and catalysed such a change.

“Working closely with farmers has been an absolute privilege – their lives have enriched mine and hopefully, via the farmers’ stories we have told, other lives have been enriched too. It has been especially rewarding to see the positive impact achieved for women as they are able to step up and take their rightful place in the chocolate story,” explained the former CEO, who said that she had worked with some extraordinary people during her time with the business.

As a founder member of UK Fairtrade leaders, she went on to gain an MBE for her services to the food industry, and gained the Real Business/CBI award for women in business among a number of other sector honours.

She added: “Divine’s mission goes on – there is still a lot to do – but farmers’ income is right in the spotlight, as is the urgent need for social, environmental, and economic sustainability, so there is optimism for more positive developments. The Social Enterprise and B Corporation movements are setting inspiring examples and there is now a critical mass of discerning consumers who expect more of the companies they are buying from.

“I am reassured to be leaving the company with our main manufacturer Weinrich having capitalised the business, in the knowledge that Weinrich’s CEO Cord Budde has been, and continues to be a totally committed partner, sharing Divine’s values and supporting its mission and ambitions.”

Acquisition

Speaking on the Divine Chocolate acquisition, the business said the development would herald a secure future for the company. In a statement, the firm said: “We are delighted that Weinrich, under its CEO Cord Budde, is now a key shareholder and are fully committed to our mission to empower cocoa farmers and chocolate lovers by delivering seriously good chocolate.

“Mr Budde and his company have proved to be exceptional partners to Divine: not only developing and producing all our delicious chocolate flavours, but visiting farmers, hosting Kuapa Kokoo in their factory, building a school house to add to a school built by Kuapa, investing in establishing Divine USA, and helping in many ways to build our business. We are genuinely excited about what the future holds for the company.”

In a recent Divine report, Cord Budde, CEO of Weinrich, reflected: “To be honest, Divine has changed my life. Yes, that might sound a bit impassioned, but it is true. Divine has brought me much closer to the most important part of our products, the cocoa and the farmers, and most important, made me much more sensitive regarding the needs and the livelihoods of those people who are producing this wonderful cocoa.”

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