The purpose of chocolate: Why laughing at purpose misses the point

Cynicism around the validity and value of purpose in business is well-documented. We’re all used to coverage that dismisses attempts by brands to promote purpose as either ingenuine, shallow, or laughably grandiose. Recently, Hellmann’s mayonnaise’s mission to fight food waste was met with derision all the way from major media outlets to Unilever’s investors. The overall consensus was that mayonnaise is mayonnaise and that Hellmann’s should stick to helping consumers make sandwiches and shareholders make money.

While there have undoubtedly been some instances of purpose-for-PR, as is often the case, discrediting an entire concept because of some ill-advised attempts to promote it, is just as foolish. The idea that purpose and profit are entirely unrelated ­– that one is too good to be true and the other not good at all – is nonsense. As Mars Incorporated CEO Poul Weihrauch put it, “We don’t believe that profit and purpose don’t work hand in hand”. Leading with purpose not only helps attract and retain talent but significantly contributes to business growth.

Chocolate brands prioritise purpose
This defence of purpose comes just as Mars Inc brand, Galaxy, announced its intention to make purpose the “number one priority”. As well as stating that 100% of the cocoa sourced for Galaxy products is now responsibly sourced, the brand has pledged to partner with NGOs to help one million cocoa farmers, predominantly women and their families, by 2030. The mission is summed up in the line – “Creating a world where chocolate does as good as it tastes.” You can probably already see the eye rolls, but if we consider for a moment that the production of chocolate is an industry with a vast, global economic, environmental, social and political footprint, then a public commitment to improvement from one of the world’s biggest manufacturers doesn’t sound like such a bad thing.

At such a level of influence, failure to have a significant purpose, to be clear about it and ensure it directs everything you do, will lose customers, employees and ultimately business value. Purpose doesn’t just sit alongside profit, it drives it. Over the past few years, disruptor chocolate brand Tony Chocolonely and its founding mission to make 100% slave free the norm in chocolate, has captured the attention (and wallets) of consumers. The Dutch firm is the UK’s fastest-growing chocolate brand and has directly challenged the ‘handful of chocolate giants’ it names as profiting from keeping the price of cocoa as low as possible. From ethical sourcing principles to Selfridges windows, the purpose has guided business growth, brand awareness and societal impact.

The three drivers of purpose
At Caffeine, we believe there are three drivers behind a successful purpose. The first is commercial, based on an organisation’s financial goal. In the same way, purpose is not an empty statement, ‘profit’ should not be a dirty word. Profits allow businesses to invest in improving the customer experience, funding research and development, paying employees better wages, and making returns to investors. No one is going to thank you for delivering an experience that costs you more than you can afford to pay. Even not-for-profits have a financial goal – otherwise, they lack the funds to effect change.

The second purpose driver is brand, focusing on your customer ambition. Much of branding – its intangible and economic value – is emotional. It’s about establishing a ‘relationship’ with a customer psychologically, often based on a perception of their own self-image. If you can’t answer the simple question, ‘If our brand didn’t exist, would we need to create it?’ with a ‘Yes, because…’ and articulate your purpose, then don’t bother with the other elements of branding. The third driver of purpose is the social aspect, built on insight into the world your customers live in today and will live in tomorrow. By reconciling these three drivers into the purpose, it becomes a guide to informing everything from operational decision-making to internal culture and brand building.

The cost of dismissing purpose
Despite what the sceptics might say, being purpose-led is vital for businesses that want to succeed, win and retain customers and talent, and progress with a license to operate by all stakeholders in society. As Robert Stephens, Founder of Geek Squad said, “Companies can ignore it if they want but at some point, I believe a lack of authentic purpose will be a tax not just on your growth and revenues, but on your talent acquisition…Businesses need to behave ethically because in the long run, if they don’t it short-changes them anyway.”

In years to come, those smirking at purpose now, may not have the last laugh.

To read more about the power of purpose, the On Purpose book by The Caffeine Partnership’s Andy Milligan and Shaun Smith is available for purchase here.

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