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Sophi Tranchell on credit checks, currency and chocolate

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"This recession is tough," admits Tranchell. "We manufacture our products in mainland Europe so we’re hugely exposed to fluctuations in the exchange rate. We forward-contract our cocoa by 18 months to help hedge risk."

Tranchell says she’s also being much tighter on credit and is having to "look twice" at every new stockist, running credit checks and drawing up pro-forma invoices: "When Woolworths went down at the end of last year, its suppliers bore the brunt and were owed millions. We can’t afford to take that kind of hit."

As a small company with 16 employees, Divine Chocolate is flexible enough to change its ranges quickly. "Over Christmas we brought out a seasonal range of boxes of chocolates, all of which were priced at about £11," says Tranchell. "This year, we’ll produce smaller gifts, packaged in printed foil, which we can sell at £3. People still want to buy treats – but they have less disposable cash."

Tranchell reckons it will be an "achievement" to keep sales steady in this environment. "That’s not to do with consumers; it’s much more to do with how the big multiples are responding," she explains. "If Tesco puts in a big discount range, that means limited shelf space for us."

Remarkably, Divine Chocolate is co-owned by the Ghanaian farmers who produce the cocoa, who also have real input into how the company is run, how the chocolate is made and how it is sold. One of every four board meetings is held in Ghana – with the farmers, naturally, receiving a share of the profits. 

“I hope the success of mission-driven companies like Divine heralds a new era of businesses where decision-making and money ends up in the hands of the many, not of the few.”

Sophi Tranchell won the retail and property gong at the 2007 First Women Awards, held in association with Lloyds TSB Corporate Markets. Nominations are open for the 2009 event. For more details, click here

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