Jo Fairley

Jo Fairley

The Story of Green & Black's Changing the world, one square of chocolate at a time…

Green & Black's was the world's first organic chocolate, and their Maya Gold bar was the first Fairtrade-marked product to be launched. The tale of Green & Black's has now become a blueprint for sustainable business everywhere, studied in business schools and featured in countless newspaper stories, from Newsweek to the UK's The Daily Telegraph.

Green & Black's story is a true, modern-day adventure of husband and wife team Jo Fairley and Craig Sams.

 

Jo left school at 16 and after finding her niche in journalism quickly ascended the trade, becoming the youngest ever magazine editor. A widely published author, she juggled her journalistic career alongside her role at Green & Blacks utilising her journalistic and PR insights to help build Green & Black's brand without spending a single penny on advertising, until the brand was eight years old.

Craig was an ex hippy wholefood pioneer. Craig's passion for organic, healthy food had been going strong since the 1960's, when he ran a macrobiotic restaurant in London 's Notting Hill - the very first of its kind.From this, a series of ventures evolved: a wholefood wholesale business, London's first organic bakery and a natural and organic foods mini-empire, Whole Earth, marketing no-added-sugar peanut butter, soft drinks, jams and cereals.

The story begins in 1991, when Jo discovered two delicious remaining squares from a prototype bar of the world's first organic chocolate - on the desk of her soon-to-be husband - and nagged him to do something with it.

She sunk the proceeds of selling her house into the first consignment, before discovering that the fastest way to trigger a heatwave is to invest in 20,000 bars of something which melts at approximately 80°! The first consignment had to sit in controlled-temperature storage for six weeks before it could be shipped, lest a motorway breakdown resulted in the nest-egg trickling down the motorway…this was to be the first of many lessons learnt along the way.

There have been highs - countless awards, including the Ethical Consumer Award, several Organic Food Awards and the Worldaware Award, presented by the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer. In 2006, Green & Black's was voted No. 7 in the list of 'Coolbrands' - just behind iPod & Aston Martin, ahead of Prada (and the only food brand in the Top 20…) 

There have been lows...The discovery of a huge 'black hole' in the company's finances, which not only almost sunk the venture, but threatened to cost the couple their home…

And there have been plenty of white-knuckle moments: what do you do, when your cocoa beans are stuck in a volatile tropical country, with a blockade on the ports, and a supermarket is threatening you with de-listing unless you deliver your next consignment on time…? Mostly, there has been great fun, and plenty of laughter.

This adventure has taken them to the jungles of Belize, to Italy (to the world's most beautifully-sited chocolate factory, on the shores of Lake Como), to Highgrove (the Prince of Wales's home, in Gloucestershire) - and most recently to Buckingham Palace (Jo was a guest at The Queen's recent Women of Achievement reception).

The couple share the adventure of Green & Black's - throwing into the mix the marketing insights they've learned, while turning this amazing opportunity into a global brand that is seen to embody Corporate Social Responsibility, and how it created opportunities.

For instance, at the launch of Maya Gold, and unplanned by the company, 20,000 young Methodists ran from town to town in the UK carrying flaming torches, button-holing supermarket managers to ask them to stock Green & Black's Maya Gold. The launch got eight minutes of news coverage on the BBC. And vicars across the UK rang supermarket buyers to badger them to stock this landmark product, which became a beacon of hope for Third World producers...

Thirteen years on, the fortunes of the Belizian Maya Indians who grow the cocoa for Maya Gold have been transformed: 70% of the children in the Maya villages now attend secondary school (the figure was just 10%, before the Maya Gold project), the families have built more weather-proof homes - and now enjoy a secure future they could not even have dreamed of in the past, when they were prey to the whims of commodity traders and aid workers who (however well-meaning) only offered short-term help.

Jo and Craig's story is both inspiring and enlightening. They show how a business that does good, can also be good business. Aside from the ethical angle, theirs is also a remarkable story of building an FMCG brand from nothing.

Topics covered include:

If you don't do it, you'll always wonder what would have happened if you had done it

'Hello, Green & Black's…' Why answering the phone yourself can put you on the fast-track to solving a crisis (because 200 people who call up in the space of a week with concerns about Genetically Modified ingredients can't all be wrong…)

How sometimes, the (rain) gods move in mysterious ways… Late at night, 'colouring in' with Photoshop an illustration of Tlaloc - the Maya rain god - for the packaging of Maya Gold, Craig used the time to focus on how the product could help the brand's fortunes flow.

When you're building your own brand, expect to lose sleep… Those 3 a.m., palpitation moments are normal - but there are ways to put them to good use…

Don't dumb-down your story... Today's questioning customer is smarter than you think - wanting to know every detail of the story behind the product they're putting in their shopping cart. Be ready with all the answers. (P.T. Barnum once said 'nobody ever got rich overestimating the intelligence of the public'. Today, the opposite is true - and the brands that will succeed, in future, will reflect that…)

The couple - who featured in Vanity Fair's 'green issue',- have been hailed 'Britain's coolest organic couple'. They now own and run Judges, an organic bakery and 100% food store, in their home town Hastings, East Sussex. They have also opened The Wellington Centre, an integrated health clinic, in the town. The couple's new ventures continue to embody the couple's passion for sustainable living and wellbeing.

Jo is now a Contributing Editor to Sainsbury's Magazine, The Mail On Sunday's YOU Magazine (writing about beauty and organic living) and contributes to a wide range of other publications including Red, InStyle and The Daily Mail. She has written over a dozen books - including the bestselling Beauty Bible series, with Sarah Stacey, and The Ultimate Natural Beauty Book (Kyle Cathie). She is Chair of the Soil Association's Health Products Standards Committee, helping to set the standards for organic and natural cosmetics in the UK and is also a 'Matron' of the Women's Environmental Network.

For the past six years, Craig has been Chairman of The Soil Association (the UK's leading organic charity). He is also an advisor to The Prince of Wales's Duchy Originals brand. He has written several books, including About Macrobiotics, The Macrobiotic Brown Rice Cookbook and The Little Food Book.