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News > School News > Sweet Success:Jo Fairley unwraps the secrets of Green & Black’s rise to ethical chocolate excellence

Sweet Success:Jo Fairley unwraps the secrets of Green & Black’s rise to ethical chocolate excellence

Jo Fairley captivated a 250-strong audience at Dame Allan’s Schools with her remarkable journey, narrating the transformation of Green & Black’s from a Portobello bedroom venture to a global brand.
26 Feb 2024
School News


Self-confessed chocoholic Jo Fairley captivated a 250-strong audience at Dame Allan’s Schools with her remarkable journey, narrating the transformation of Green & Black’s from a modest Portobello bedroom venture to a global brand worth approaching £100m.

The possibility of free chocolate was enough to pique the interest of pupils, yet it was Jo Fairley’s fascinating insight into the achievements of British confectionery brand Green & Black’s – and the imparting of her ‘golden rules to success’ – that kept the audience at Dame Allan’s Schools enthralled.

Jo, a journalist by profession who co-founded Green & Black’s with her husband, organic pioneer Craig Sams in 1991, was the third keynote speaker to inspire pupils at the Newcastle school as part of its acclaimed lecture series.

From sketching brand names and ideas on a yellow notepad while in bed at her Portobello Road flat, to growing Green & Black’s into a near £100m global brand that has changed the lives of thousands of people in the developing world, Jo’s lecture took the audience on a journey spanning more than three decades. 

By sharing her story, Jo hoped to raise the aspirations of the region’s budding entrepreneurs and future business leaders. She said: “I want to provide Dame Allan’s students with the motivation they need to propel themselves forward. Having benefited from the wisdom shared by others during my own journey, I'm happy to pay it forward by imparting the knowledge I've accumulated over the years, in the hope that it will serve as a source of inspiration and encouragement for others.”

Opening her lecture with the words ‘my name is Jo Fairley, and I am a chocoholic’, Jo cast the audience back to her early days as a magazine editor who established herself as an eco-warrior, writing a column called ‘Ecosphere’ for the Times and presenting a 30 week ‘Go For Green’ series for BSKYB.

She described a pivotal moment in her career when sitting in the offices of her husband Craig Sams, the founder of Whole Earth Foods and a man she fondly describes as 'very green'. It was there, while sampling the world's first organic dark chocolate, that the seeds of the Green & Black's concept were sown.

"While eating two squares of the sample bar, it was, I realised, the most delicious, dark chocolate I’d ever eaten. The memory of that chocolate nagged me,” she told pupils.

Compelled to market the chocolate and inspired by the achievements of her close friend Anita Roddick – human rights activist, environmental campaigner and founder of The Body Shop – Jo invested her own money to develop and launch the high-quality, ethically sourced Green & Black’s range, with the backing of her husband. “I felt that I could potentially change the world one square of chocolate at a time,” she said.

The brand's commitment to sustainability and ethical sourcing led to rapid growth and acclaim. In 1994, Green & Black’s introduced Maya Gold, the world's first Fairtrade-certified chocolate, setting a precedent for socially responsible production. In 1999, Cadbury acquired the company, providing the resources for expanded distribution while maintaining the brand's integrity. In 2010, Green & Black's became the UK's first chocolate brand to be awarded the Fairtrade Mark across its entire range, further cementing its reputation for ethical excellence.

She told pupils: “The key factors in our success are things that any business has to get right: the product itself; branding; design; PR; customer service; and, very importantly for us, the ethics that underpin the brand. This isn’t rocket science. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to have a very successful venture – you just have to get these certain things right.”

To this day, Jo and Craig remain as chocolate ambassadors of Green & Black’s. She said: “Green & Black’s continues to grow beyond our wildest dreams…. And our opinions are still listened to because the team at Green & Black’s know that there’s still nobody who quite understands the DNA of this brand the way we do.”

Isabel, an aspiring journalist in Year 12, was among a group of Sixth Form students to enjoy a pre-event chat with Jo. Speaking after the lecture, she said: “Jo is such an inspirational woman; I hope I can have a career like hers in the future.”

Will Scott, Principal at Dame Allan’s Schools, said: “Jo Fairley's fascinating lecture not only delved into the intricacies of entrepreneurship but also highlighted the positive impact of ethical business practices. Her journey with Green & Black's is one of innovation and sustainability and I’m confident that her key messages and golden rules will empower our students to pursue their dreams with purpose and integrity.”

Jo’s Golden Rules to Success:

·         Be brave and be daring: fortune favours the bold.

·         Be prepared to work incredibly hard: luck is what you have left when you’ve given 100 per cent.

·         Roll up your sleeves and get stuck in: at the start of your careers, you’ll get the attention of your bosses and, as you progress up the ladder, you will earn the respect of your staff.

·         Find a mentor when starting out: many in business are happy to mentor, nurture and encourage younger people so be brave enough to ask.

·         Be kind: Kindness is probably the most important thing in the world. Kindness in business is about treating your customers, team, and suppliers with respect.

·         Be authentic: In a world that celebrates diversity and individuality, be true to the person you are rather than change to fit in with others’ expectations.

·         Do good: If you do good while you’re doing business then you’ll be repaid many times over. The work people do can make a real difference to the world.

·         Have Fun! Bring your sense of humour to work because at times you’re going to really need it. When you spend more of your day time in the office than at home then you need to find joy in what you’re doing.

·         Find a way to deal with stress: It’s very hard to be creative, inventive and strategic when you’re paralysed by anxiety. Find ways to cope with what life throws at you so you can be the calm at the centre of any storm.


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