How marketing and supply chain combine to create a ‘mission brand’

The success of mission-led brands starts with a strong supply chain built on transparency, equality and trust, something which larger businesses could learn from.

Tony's Chocolonely
Tony’s Chocolonely chocolate company exists to show the inequalities in the cocoa trade.

Now more than ever brands are waking up to the possibilities of using their business as a force for good. However, rather than paying lip service to the notion, some brands are bringing their marketing and supply chain together to ensure their business is built on equality and sustainability from the bottom up.

Dutch chocolate company Tony’s Chocolonely, for example, did not start life wanting to make great tasting chocolate. The brand was founded 13 years ago off the back of a TV programme following three investigative journalists who uncovered the true scale of child slavery in the international cocoa trade.

Some 60% of the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa, with an estimated 2.3 million children working on cocoa farms, 90% of which do so in dangerous or illegal conditions. Caught in a poverty trap, the farmers take their children out of school to help tend the land.

Horrified by what he encountered, one of the journalists, Teun van de Keuken, asked to be tried in court for eating chocolate. As part of the stunt, he hired a lawyer to ‘prosecute’ him and brought three children working in the cocoa supply chain in Africa to the Netherlands to testify against him. Van de Keuken then produced 5,000 bars of the world’s first ‘slave-free chocolate’ to highlight the inequality being perpetuated by the world’s seven big cocoa producers and the Tony’s Chocolonely brand was born.

Companies need to take responsibility for their supply chain and if they’re not then in my view they need to change, or they shouldn’t really exist because someone is suffering at the beginning of that and it’s not right.

Ben Greensmith, Tony’s Chocolonely

“[Chocolate producers] hide behind their supply chains because they claim they do not own their supply chains and they’re buying from mass balance cocoa which is faceless, but that is exactly the problem,” explains UK country manager, Ben Greensmith. “We exist to change that. What we want to do as a brand is raise awareness of that and make it part of the conversation.”

Greensmith stresses that Tony’s did not find a cause to support its marketing, rather the marketing is all about the mission. The brand wants to help consumers make a conscious choice and raise awareness among retail buyers of the slavery problem that exists in cocoa.

READ MORE: Marketers must get closer to supply chain or risk long-term brand damage

Tony’s Chocolonely guarantees the traceability of its cocoa beans, which are purchased directly from five partner cooperatives in Africa. On top of the Fairtrade premium given to its farmers, the brand pays an additional ‘Tony’s Premium’ of $460 per kilo in Ghana and $520 per kilo in the Ivory Coast. The company also guarantees to work with its farmers for at least five years to help them professionalise their operations and increase productivity.

Everything about the brand is designed to communicate the mission, from the 100% slave-free badging on the packaging to the uneven design of the chocolate bar, chosen to represent the inequality in the supply chain.

In March, Tony’s launched a new website outlining the principles of its sourcing model and is inviting other brands to adopt the framework. The Netherlands’ largest supermarket, Albert Heijn, became the first retailer to sign up to use the sourcing model for its Delicata chocolate range. Tony’s expects this to add 20% to 25% to the total volume going through its open sourcing principle.

There has been a definite shift towards using business as a force for good amid a wider move away from consumerism towards a conscious citizenship, says Greensmith. This is why he believes there is a massive risk to marketers who fail to understand their supply chain, and the “greenwashing” companies who hide behind their supply chain.

“I really do hope it bites them on the backside. In today’s day and age when you’ve got companies making billions and billions they need to take responsibility for their supply chain and if they’re not then in my view they need to change, or they shouldn’t really exist because someone is suffering at the beginning of that and it’s not right,” he states.

Tony’s knows to make a change it needs to be in the big chocolate producing nations such as the UK and US. The brand launched in the UK in September with Whole Foods, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, Selfridges and Ocado. While raising awareness is crucial, the brand has a strictly no paid media policy and has grown via word of mouth, driven by pop-up events and free sampling. In November last year, Tony’s annual fair for its fans in the Netherlands sold out 5,000 tickets.

“We rely much more on a pull than a push because the mission is everything that we talk about. It’s a serious message and it’s not a message that you can get across in a 10-second ad or a flash on a billboard,” says Greensmith.

“Everything we’ve built over the years has been built on earned media. We lead with the mission. That’s the way it has always been and always will be. I think it puts more pressure on and that’s great, it limits your choices and makes you more choiceful. It’s more fun and it means we’re working twice as hard.”

The B Corp benefit

Organic baby food brand Ella’s Kitchen defines its mission as improving children’s lives through developing healthy relationships with food. As a minimum all the ingredients in its baby food products must be baby grade organic and certified by UK body Organic Farmers and Growers.

Everyone starting at the business goes on a “brand immersion session” to help them understand the company’s values in order to better communicate them with partners and suppliers. Then everyone is involved at the brief stage of each project in order to understand the full context of the product from supply chain to manufacturing and marketing.

Consumers want to be able to make easy choices because they trust that brands are making the right decisions on their behalf.

Kim Gelling, Ella’s Kitchen

Kim Gelling, head of marketing, explains that it is vital all the suppliers are aligned to the mission. “The high quality of our products is intrinsic to our mission and brand, and we wouldn’t be who we are without a real focus on what we are putting into our recipes and where our ingredients come from.”

Gelling believes transparency is becoming increasingly important to consumers, which is why other brands are being called out on their supply chains. To ensure the highest animal welfare standards, for example, all Ella’s Kitchen’s meat and dairy suppliers are independently audited and annually certified to EU organic standards, ensuring full supply chain traceability.

This year, Ella’s Kitchen is introducing a standard outlining its mandatory requirements for human rights, working conditions and business ethics, which will be shared with its partners.

Ella's Kitchen
Supply chain sustainability is at the heart of Ella’s Kitchen brand

The brand has also recently launched its first social and environmental impact report, in which it sets a number of ethical and supply chain targets. Key targets include making 100% of Ella’s Kitchen product packaging recyclable or compostable by 2024, eliminating palm oil from the supply chain by 2021 and developing a sourcing standard for banana, mango and vanilla, which all suppliers must sign up to by June 2020.

“Consumers are increasingly looking to brands to make sure they’re doing the right thing for people and the planet,” says Gelling. “They want to be able to make easy choices because they trust that brands are making the right decisions on their behalf.”

It is important to note that Ella’s Kitchen has been a B Corp since 2016, a certification which indicates a business has met the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability, which balances profit and purpose.

Last year, the brand became the first UK B Corp to create a tailored version of the B Impact Assessment called the Ella’s ‘B the Change survey’. The survey was sent to a group of suppliers who created personalised scorecards and while the brand does not expect every supplier to become a fully-fledged B Corp, the hope is this will encourage them to make a change.

READ MORE: Patagonia on why brands ‘can’t reverse into purpose’ through marketing

Finding the solution

Former Hungryhouse marketing director and CEO, Alice Mrongovius, finalised the takeover last year of the German takeaway platform by UK-based rival Just Eat when her son was just a month old.

“We went back to work on the Just Eat integration and I started to think about what I wanted to do next and having a child it changes so many things and in ways that you wouldn’t expect,” Mrongovius recalls.

At the same time she was shopping in the baby formula category and failing to find a product that was organic and fully traceable, made using the best nutritional ingredients. Seeing a gap in the market for ethically sourced baby formula and weaning cereals, Mrongovius teamed up with friends Liz Sauer Williamson and Carmen Lazos Wilmking to found Berlin-based organic baby food company Löwenzahn Organics.

Löwenzahn Organics baby formula and porridge is fully traceable

All the ingredients for the formulas and porridge are sourced from a small circle of trusted and certified organic suppliers. Each product can be traced all the way back to its origin farm using a unique traceability code on the packaging.

Furthermore, the range is tested in an independent laboratory and certified by Demeter, EU-Bio organic regulations and other German quality seals.

Mrongovius and her fellow founders believe creating a product with authenticity and traceability at its heart will help Löwenzahn Organics set itself apart.

“In Germany, the baby porridges are all processed with what used to be a grain, but actually you start looking and some of them are processed within an inch of their lives and the kind of processing as an adult you would not accept,” Mrongovius explains.

“For me it’s really important that you live and breathe your brand credentials. Doing marketing can just create a veneer on a generic carton of whatever.”

Co-founder Liz Sauer Williamson can appreciate how big brands would struggle to restructure their supply chain to prioritise traceability, which means they never get to the heart of building a better product. However, millennial mums, in particular, are starting to question everything on the label and are demanding more from brands than ever before.

“Traceability is a big concern for us because we see a lot of brands being screwed by retailers to keep the price as cheap as possible,” Sauer Williamson claims. “Unfortunately, there are some compromises that pop up in terms downgrading the quality of the ingredients. This is why we have a proper story because the consumers want to avoid those kinds of compromises.”

All these brands are on a mission to open up their supply chains to the strictest scrutiny and ensure that marketing is brought along on the journey, all the way from the grassroots to the shop floor.