The Entrepreneur: Sophi Tranchell, Divine Chocolate

The MD of the Fairtrade chocolate company talks to Growing Business about her ethical mission, biggest mistakes, and why knowing too much can hamper growth...

Managing director: Sophi Tranchell (company founded by Twin Trading and Kuapa Kokoo)
Company: Divine Chocolate Ltd
Website: www.divinechocolate.com
Description in one line: Delicious chocolate from a company 45% owned by cocoa farmers in Ghana
Previous companies: Metro Tartan (art film distribution)
Turnover: £8m
12 month target: Private

Describe your business model and what makes your business unique:

  • We are 45% owned by cocoa farmers
  • All of our products are Fairtrade certified
  • We have an exceptional range of products

What is your greatest business achievement to date?

The first time we handed over a profit dividend to the farmers who own the business (and each time after that).

What numbers do you look at every day in your business?

Cocoa prices, exchange rates, sales of chocolate and social media engagement.

To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your plans?

We have another company in the USA that also sells to Canada, and we sell to Scandinavia, Holland, Czech Republic and South Korea – our aim is to further build these territories. We’ve had access to export markets through UK Trade & Investment food trade fairs, which has been very valuable for us. I’m currently an ambassador for the ‘Business is GREAT Britain’ campaign, which aims to build confidence amongst other small businesses and encourage them to plan, hire and export.

Describe your growth funding path:

Social investors – up to now, and in the future. The initial investment came from Twin Trading, Body Shop and the Christian Aid and Comic Relief charities.

What technology has made the biggest difference to your business?

Social media – we are blessed with great content, and social media allows us to have more of a voice with limited budgets. We’ve also had access to new technologies through the government’s Knowledge Transfer Partnership, which gives businesses access to the knowledge and expertise within UK universities. We worked with Liverpool John Moores University who helped us with our packaging, food technologies and business processes.

Where would you like your business to be in three years?

Profitable with sustainable growth – e.g. £12m in the UK delivering £0.25m as producer support and development to farmers and $10m in the USA.

Growth challenges

What is the hardest thing you have ever done in business?

Deciding to stop things that aren’t working well enough; for example we have created flavours that some people really love, but there has not been enough interest for it to make sense commercially.

What was your biggest business mistake?

Making errors in recruitment. If you make the mistake of recruiting the wrong person in such a small business, it has a detrimental effect and takes up time and resources we can’t spare.

Piece of Red Tape that hampers growth most:

As with any food product, there are hoops to jump through with food regulators in the countries we trade in.

What is the most common serious mistake you see entrepreneurs make?

Taking the wrong sort of finance – if you take funding from people or companies that don’t share your values, it can be difficult to retain integrity and stick to your mission.

How will your market look in three years?

Growing, but even more concentrated growth. We expect to see an increased impact of emerging markets.

What is the single most important piece of advice you would offer to a less experienced entrepreneur?

Pick your partners carefully and your finance even more carefully.

Personal growth

Biggest luxury:

Travelling to extraordinary places and meeting extraordinary people.

Executive education or learn it on the job?

I learned on the job and made use of opportunities to network with interesting and experienced people.

What would make you a better leader?

When we first started we had the advantage of not knowing too much and that allowed us to question the status quo. Now I have a lot of knowledge about the food retail market – it can hamper you and complicate things.

Business book?

Managing My Life by Alex Ferguson, it was really useful.

 

Sophi is a ‘Business is GREAT Britain’ ambassador and appears in its latest advertising campaign. To find out more about the business support available to you, visit: www.greatbusiness.gov.uk

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