Long before Kraft came to own Green & Black’s by buying Cadbury this week, I founded the company in 1991 along with my wife Jo Fairley. We had total and undemocratic control of the brand; all the major decisions were the result of pillow talk – we’d agree policy and strategy and didn’t have to consult with anyone else. When we decided to pay fair prices and offer long-term guarantees to cacao farmers in Belize we didn’t have to justify our actions to shareholders or even to the rest of the team at our office. Getting the Soil Association and the Fairtrade Foundation to approve our products was easy – we more than complied with their requirements.
So today, looking at Kraft’s track record, what can we expect its takeover to mean for the commitment of Cadbury and Green & Black’s to socially and environmentally-progressive policies such as Fairtrade and organic ingredients?
In 2005, we sold the business to Cadbury.The press was full of speculation as to what would happen with the brand and journalists asked me if it would go on being organic and whether Cadbury would continue to follow our collaborative relationships with cacao growers. Some of our customers flipped completely and vowed never to eat Green & Black’s again.
I would write to them asking them to consider the farmers who grew the cacao – all of whom were delighted that they now had a secure relationship, but now with a partner of much more solid financial status. In addition, I could assure them that Cadbury had asked me to stay on as president and as director of the Green & Black’s subsidiary – if I resigned it would be an indicator that things were not going as well as I hoped.
But I was confident that they would respect and support the principles that had been embodied in the brand for the previous 14 years. Today I’m still president and in the past five years Cadbury has brought the professionalism and rigour of a large corporation’s technical team to the party. They don’t question the rights or wrongs of the Fairtrade Foundation’s rules or of organic standards; they just make sure they understand them and then get on with compliance. Why pay good money for an ethical organic brand and then change it?
A brand is like a child. It is born into this world, fragile and in great need of parental care and attention. Eventually you send it off to school and university, entrusting it to the care of others. Then it embarks on its career. Green & Black’s, to follow the analogy, was nurtured to maturity and eventually got a good job at a big multinational.
It’s still our baby. The fact that it can now look forward to continuing its career development with another multinational with a different name (and most of the same shareholders) is not a great cause for concern.
If Kraft screwed up with Green & Black’s it would damage their reputation and cast a shadow over their competence. But there is no reason to expect them to goof. They have converted US household names like Oreos and Ritz crackers to organic and even do an organic macaroni-and-cheese dinner.
Every successful organic product represents another welcome step forward in the vital process, whereby the GM dependent climate-destructive industrial farming model gives way to sustainable, organic and fair ways of producing food. Successful corporations identify and follow these deeper underlying trends and would be betraying their shareholders’ interest in trying to reverse them.
Frankly, it’s the consumers who don’t buy organic and fair products that upset me the most. Consumers have a choice, companies don’t, they only sell what customers buy. Kraft and Cadbury are on the right track and I am confident the new entity will continue to pursue this.
I have no idea if Kraft will ask me to stay on as president, but if they don’t that could be your canary in the coal mine.