On Monday we went to the Natural & Organic Products Europe event at Excel. One of the speakers was Craig Sams, the founder (with his wife) of Green & Black’s. He needs no introduction, but if you need one, here’s a bit about him:
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‘, which is now a very successful brand.
He founded Green & Black’s with is 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.
After the talk, we really wanted to talk to him. After setting up so many successful businesses, what insight could we gather? He is full of amazing stories, like tripping on acid with Pete Townsend while walking across Vauxhall Bridge and restaurants with Yoko Ono as patron.
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 jewelry 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, especially if you are thinking of starting a business with an exit strategy, use a name that belongs to the business, not you.
We have always advocated for people to start businesses using their own name, particularly small ones where you drove the business and it was your personal passion, but this is not right for everyone. We didn’t call our own company after ourselves as we felt the names didn’t sound right together, there is no ‘one size fits all approach’, you need to do what’s right for you and your business.
We also asked him to share his thoughts on branding and packaging.
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” standing 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. 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. It 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 products 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.