THOUGHTS

TALKING WITH THE FOUNDER OF GREEN & BLACK'S

STARTUPS OFTEN WORRY ABOUT THE WAY THEY PRESENT THEMSELVES, AND WHILE THIS IS A VALID CONCERN, HAVING A GREAT PRODUCT OR SERVICE HAS TO COME FIRST.

While attending the Natural & Organic Products Europe show, we were lucky enough to listen to a talk by Craig Sams, the founder (with his wife) of Green & Black’s

He needs no introduction. But if you do, here is a little bit of background on Craig:

He came to the UK in 1966 to open a macrobiotic restaurant. He opened SEED in 1968 with his brother, Greg. They followed this with Ceres Grain in 1969 and published a journal for 6 years also called ‘Seed, the Journal for Organic Living’.

In 1970 they set up Harmony Foods, which became ‘Whole Earth‘, now a very successful brand.

He founded Green & Black’s with his wife Jo Fairley in 1991. This was the first chocolate to carry the Fairtrade Mark. Initially, it was 70% cocoa, but later they progressed into milk chocolate and added a health warning about the sugar content on the back of pack (talk about believing in what you do). He also serves as a director of Duchy Originals and Gusto Organic.

That’s an impressive CV. 

His talk was full of amazing stories, like tripping on acid with Pete Townsend while walking across Vauxhall Bridge and meeting Yoko Ono.

So we really wanted to talk with him. What insights could we gather?

People used to use their name when starting a business. The person behind a brand can be a large part of the reason why someone might choose a brand, especially if the company has a passionate founder. After all, interacting with an anonymous entity is not very appealing. Using their name didn’t hurt Marks and Spencer, Stella McCartney, Morrisons, Selfridges or Sainsbury’s, but this happens less and less these days, especially in the UK.

This is not right for everyone. We didn’t name our company after ourselves (although many design agencies do) as we felt the names didn’t sound right together and our egos are not that inflated. 

There is no 'one size fits all' approach, you need to do what’s right for you and your business.

We talked with Craig and asked him what his take on this was.

WE ASKED HIM WHY HE HAD NEVER STARTED A BUSINESS UNDER HIS OWN NAME.

His reply made a lot of sense. He didn’t think that his name was particularly strong for a brand, but also he wanted the name to belong to the business. He told us the story of a jewellery designer who sold her business, then started up another business but couldn’t use her name as it belonged to the previous business.

It’s good advice if you are thinking of starting a business with an exit strategy, use a name that belongs to the business, not you.

WE ALSO ASKED HIM TO TELL US MORE ABOUT HIS BRANDING AND PACKAGING JOURNEY.

He started Green & Black’s with his wife, Josephine Fairley. He had been sent some organic cocoa beans and made up a bar of chocolate. He ate half and his wife spotted the half-eaten bar and helped herself. She’d never tasted anything like it and a business was formed. Jo came up with the name. ”Green” stands for the environmental concerns of the founders, and “Black” for the high cocoa solids chocolate they wished to provide.

Craig told us that they designed the logo themselves and had it drawn up by a designer they knew down the road. They printed the labels on their new inkjet printer, which was expensive at the time, but when they started they didn’t want to go back to a designer every time they needed to amend a comma. 

They were an early lean startup!

One day they got a call from Pearlfisher who said ‘we have been eating your chocolate every day but we think we can do your packaging better’. Pearlfisher gave them 9 designs and they ended up with an evolutionary version of the original one. Green & Blacks went on to be an amazing success and a Fairtrade pioneer.

This highlights the importance of having a good product in the first place, if Craig and Josephine hadn’t had great chocolate when they started, the best branding and packaging would have made very little difference. Startups often worry about the way they present themselves, and while this is a valid concern, having a great product or service has to come first.

Today, among other things, Craig Sams serves as director of Duchy Originals, the Soil Association and is the co-founder and Executive Chairman of Carbon Gold Ltd, a carbon sequestration company that’s developed biochar products, a natural soil improver. He also has an excellent account of Green & Black’s on his website

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