German company Ludwig Weinrich is the new majority shareholder of Divine Chocolate.
The firm, which has been manufacturing Divine’s chocolate since it was set up in 1998, has acquired the majority of the shares in the company from existing investors, including Twin Trading, an alternative trading company which went into administration in October 2020. Former investors also included The Body Shop, Christian Aid and the Department for International Development.
The financial details were not disclosed. According to Companies House records, Papa Paa, a subsidiary of Ludwig Weinrich, holds 75% or more of the Divine’s shares, which also entitles it to 75% or more of the voting rights.
Kuapa Kokoo, the farmers’ co-operative in Ghana which was a founding shareholder, will maintain a 20% share in Divine, down from 40%. According to a Divine spokesperson, Kuapa Kokoo and Weinrich have agreed “a strategic partnership structure” going forward, under which Kuapa Kokoo will continue to have a 40% board influence.
The company’s chief executive, Sophi Tranchell, who had been at the helm of Divine for 21 years, has also left the business in May. According to Divine, she took the decision to leave in November last year but stayed longer to ensure the business “was left on good hand”.
She said in a statement: “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.
“The same goes for both the extraordinary individuals I have been able to work with who have given their support, advice and inspiration, and the thousands of people who vocally and actively continue to join us on the journey. Divine wouldn’t be here today without all of them and their imagination, courage and commitment.
“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.”
Weinrich CEO Cord Budde has become the new chair of the board. A Divine spokesperson 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.”
Divine says it will remain committed to Fairtrade, a sustainable and traceable supply chain, and distribution to all its customers and supporters around the world.
The most recent annual report available, which covers the year ending 30 June 2018, reveals its net profit had dropped to just £3,000 in the year ended 30 June 2018, from £236,000 in the previous year. The performance was affected by an increase in cost of sales and administrative expenses and currency fluctuations.
Michael Gidney, CEO of the Fairtrade Foundation said: “We are enormously proud of Divine and all that it has achieved as a member of the Fairtrade family. Sophi’s leadership, vision and tenacity led the way for so many other companies to follow over the past 21 years, during which time Divine stood as a beacon of good practice within a very complex sector.
“Divine’s manufacturer Ludwig Weinrich GmbH & Co.KG has acquired the majority of shares in the company and farmers will own 20% of shares and continue to be represented on the board. We hope that Weinrich’s CEO Cord Budde continues to share Divine’s values and support its mission and ambitions to empower cocoa farmers and raise their voices, through successful sales of divinely delicious chocolate.
“We’re very positive that Divine will remain committed to its Fairtrade mission, better incomes and social justice for farmers and we thank Sophi for playing such a significant and pioneering role within the Fairtrade movement over two decades, including her role as Chair of Fairtrade London”.
Kuapa Kokoo has been contacted for a comment.