When Forrest Gump’s was making his analogy on life being like a box of chocolates he could quite easily have been talking about Jo Fairley.
The former editor of a women’s magazine (Britain’s youngest at 23), co-founder of one of the UK’s best loved chocolate brands (Green & Black’s), co-writer of The Beauty Bible and creator (together with her husband, Craig Sams) of Judges’ Bakery, she’s not a lady who is short of things to do.
When I caught up with her at The Wellington Square National Health Centre in Hastings (another of her inspired business inventions) I found that even with so many successes behind her, the recent launch of a new book proved that there’s no stopping her momentum.
“I’m like a train without brakes!” she declared, through a welcoming smile.
That could be the understatement of her career for Fairely, born Josephine Fairley and originating from suburban Bromley in South London was not earmarked for greatness – at least not by her teachers at school. In fact there was little evidence in those formative years to suggest that she would blossom into the entrepreneur and champion of the organic food industry she is seen as today.
“I didn’t have the best of times in the education system and I have to admit that my aspirations were not particularly high. It was a very different environment for women back in the sixties. We might have had free love but there was certainly no revolution in the work place and chauvinism and sexism were rife.
“I had my sights set on being a secretary and I remember one teacher saying to me: “If you make a “girl Friday” I’ll eat my hat”. I’d like to think that since I exceeded expectations she was good to her word and made a meal of it!”
Her connection with chocolate started back in 1991 when her husband Craig Sams (founder of Whole Earth, the organic food company) was sent a sample of dark 70% chocolate made from organic cocoa beans.
At the time, Josephine was the environment columnist for the The Times and as a self-confessed chocoholic, happened upon the half-eaten bar on her husband’s desk. She needed little encouragement to try it for herself.
“I was immediately overcome by the startling flavour. I hadn’t tasted anything like this before and as a lover of chocolate I felt other fans of the “bean” would really enjoy this unique taste.”
“I persuaded Craig to come on board with the project and together we set about making the world’s first organic chocolate bar. Production came out of Italy – a country that I still believe produces some of the best chocolate in the world – and the uptake once we went on sale was quite incredible.”
The finished product was a high-quality, bittersweet dark chocolate bar, made from 70% cocoa solids and different to anything that was on the market at the time.
The brand soon gained a loyal following and in 1994, following the release of Maya Gold, Jo and Craig discovered that many cocoa farmers were being penalised by some of the larger confectionary companies, who sort to drive cocoa prices down. In what was another unprecedented move, they agreed to pay the farmers a fair price for their crops and this ethical approach earned them the UK ’s first Fairtrade mark.
Since those heady days, the product range has grown substantially and they now have over 16 different flavoured bars, some of them limited edition. As demand increased and the couple’s vision to expand production and take their chocolate into a larger market outgrew the scope of the company, they realised they needed outside help.
“It was a difficult decision but eventually we realised to make the brand more competitive was going to require the kind of infrastructure we just didn’t have and that was why we eventually sold a majority concern to Cadbury’s in 2005. We looked at a number of companies before we made our move but felt that the tradition and values behind Cadbury’s most suited our own.
“It was a little like finding a new home for the pet that had outgrown your one bedroom apartment. We had to be sure Green & Black’s was going onto a good place where it would be allowed to grow whilst always maintaining the individuality that kept it unique.
Her husband Craig still retains an interest as Chairman and the two of them recently collaborated on the newly released book, Sweet Dreams, which catalogues the Green & Black’s story in full.
And if you’re wondering about where the name came from; well there is no Mrs Green or Mr Black. The name came from Jo and Craig’s fond memories of confectionary brands from days gone by such as Callard & Bowser. The green represents the organic ethos of their chocolate and the black its deep, rich dark brown colour (which is almost black!).
If you would like to know more about Green & Black’s chocolate then why not visit their website at www.GreenAndBlacks.com.
Further information on Jo Fairley can be found at www.JudgesBakery.comGeorge R Vaughan