Shaper: Craig Sams

Show aired on 6th May 2017

Transcript

Elliot Moss
Ray Charles with the fantastic Busted, a really punchy way to start the programme. Good morning, this is Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss here on Jazz FM. Thank you very much for joining me. Jazz Shapers is where you can hear the very best of the people shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul and right alongside them we put someone who is shaping the world of business and we call them a Business Shaper. I am very pleased to say my Business Shaper today is Craig Sams. Craig is one of the people, the key founders behind the wonderful really tasty Green & Black’s chocolate as well as one of my favourite brands the Whole Earths food brand way back in the day. They make peanut butter and it’s going rather well at the moment although he isn’t involved with that right now. But you’ll be hearing lots from Craig when we get going. In addition to hearing from him you’ll be hearing from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya some words of advice for your business. And then of course we’ve got some brilliant music from the shapers of jazz, blues and soul including Roberto Fonseca, Ella Fitzgerald and this from the Brazilian pianist and vocalist Eliane Elias.

That was Eliane Elias with Sambou Sambou. Craig Sams is my Business Shaper today and he’s officially still the President of Green & Black’s in fact and was one of the co-founders back in ‘91 and as I said he was also the founder of Whole Earth Foods a little bit earlier than that. We’ll come to both those. Craig it’s a real pleasure to have you here.

Craig Sams
Lovely to be here.

Elliot Moss
Now you’re here actually on the recommendation of someone who calls you their mentor and that was Cat Gazzoli who was on the programme a few months ago. You’ve been around in business for a while. What buzzes you about the world of business because you do quite a few things and we’re going to come to them and obviously the Green & Black’s number is probably the one that most people will know you for but there’s lots more to it. Tell me about the buzz that business has given you over the years.

Craig Sams
I think the thing that really turns me on is doing something that hasn’t been done before. Doing something where you can do good and do well where you’re actually making a positive difference in the world and making money out of it and that is where I got involved with Cat because she was the director of Slow Food UK which the motto is good, clean and fair and it’s about transforming the food culture and it’s done a lot of work in that respect and she dragged me in to be the Chairman.

Elliot Moss
Now you were brought up on a farm if I’m not…

Craig Sams
Actually I was born in Nebraska.

Elliot Moss
Born in Nebraska.

Craig Sams
No I didn’t grow up on the farm because eventually my mother re-joined my dad in Los Angeles where he was at University and so I grew up on the West Coast. Then in 1951 we came to England so I lived in London for five years in the early fifties then we moved around. We were in Germany, Pittsburgh, Omaha, Nebraska so we were back in the mid-West again. Nobody was really happy there at that stage. Omaha wasn’t the lovely city it is today and some people would even disagree with that and then we moved to France but my mother had a taste for London. We moved back to London and she stayed here while the family went off in different directions to college. My dad worked in Vietnam so you know we ended up living in London. Basically London was my home town from the early sixties.

Elliot Moss
Now that business I refer to the Whole Earth Foods business. I believe you founded that only a year after you came to London?

Craig Sams
That’s right.

Elliot Moss
The year after England won the world cup in football.

Craig Sams
That’s right.

Elliot Moss
I say that with pride. I mean it was a while ago but we hold onto these things. At that point what made you and we need to, what you made you decide you were going to found a business. That was the first one as well wasn’t it?

Craig Sams
Yeah I had been travelling the East in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan in 1965 and I got quite ill and I got well by ignoring my medical advice and just going on a diet of flatbread and unsweetened tea to kind of solve the gut problem that was the root of the hepatitis and I kind of began to understand about diet and health and then when I went back for my final year at University some friends were into the macrobiotic diet and sort of pushed me in the direction of brown rice and vegetables and took away my aunt Jemima’s pancake mix and my bottle of syrup and you know put me on the right track. I was still scheduled to join the Peace Corp when I graduated and I guess I would have ended up in a State Department or you know lots of companies gave Wharton School graduates jobs in advance. I went to a restaurant in New York called the Paradox in February of ‘66 and I just you know got that moment of hair standing on the back of my neck and said I want to do this in London. So I changed my kind of career plan and ended up back in London and opened a little restaurant in Notting Hill at the beginning of ‘67. Fifty years ago almost to the day.

Elliot Moss
It starts somewhere and that’s actually where it started. We are going to pick this up in a bit. Stay with me for my Business Shaper here Craig Sams. Not just the founder and co-founder of Green & Black’s but also of a restaurant and Whole Earth Foods which we’ll come to as well. Time for some more music right now this is Tierra Santa from Roberto Fonseca.

That was Tierra Santa from Roberto Fonseca. Craig Sams is my Business Shaper and we’ve been talking about a mere fifty years ago I think we said when Craig set up that restaurant, that epiphany that you had that you wanted to set up a restaurant in London. Why food? Was it because you’d been ill and this was kind of the other side of it?

Craig Sams
I’d been ill but I also realised you know the macrobiotic message was get your own health in order but also eat food that helps to put the planet in order. So it was a very low intake of meat and dairy. Very strongly pro-organic farming. It had the concept of justice which we now know as Fairtrade. The motto was one grain ten thousand grains don’t waste food which is a big issue now. So it was way, way ahead of its time in terms of the issues that it dwelt on but it made perfect sense.

Elliot Moss
But going from being ill to fixing yourself to then deciding I’m going to be involved in food and it needs to do good things. I mean those are, not everyone would have jumped there some people would have just got better and said thank you very much.

Craig Sams
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
Why was it important, why was the sense of being good to the planet important to you then because it’s informed many things going forward for you?

Craig Sams
Yeah it just pushed my buttons. I think that it was a time when people were experiencing heightened states of consciousness and one way or another we are aware of the fact that the world needed help and that the way we were eating, the way we were fighting wars, the way we were relating to each other didn’t really make sense and that we were on a downward path long term and when you saw that you wanted to do something about it. I did it with food. Music changed as well around that time. The way people dressed changed. People’s sexual amores changed. You know everything that people did there was a new take on it. So our aspect of that kind of revolution if you like in non-violent revolution was to change the way we approached food and farming.

Elliot Moss
And that new take on it as you describe it has really as I said it’s sort of informed everything else that’s come since. I mean we’re now going to jump to the Green & Black’s story which is I believe in ‘91 when you and your wife went for it and said you know what we can do we’re going to have great tasty food and tasty also means it’s good to be traded fairly and so on and in fact you were the first chocolate bar, chocolate business to get the Fairtrade stamp.

Craig Sams
We were the first business of any kind to get the Fairtrade stamp.

Elliot Moss
Oh really, wow.

Craig Sams
And then Clipper tea followed, Café Direct, Equal Exchange, Oxfam all the other Fairtrade brands who saw it. Once the Fairtrade brand was out there and it had the recognition then people wanted it so we took a risk I suppose but you know it made perfect sense to us to go with it.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for much more from my Business Shaper that’s Craig Sams one of the founders of Green & Black’s and many other things too. Latest travel in a couple of minutes and before that some words of wisdom from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya for your business.

You’re listening to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss. Every Saturday I talk to somebody who is shaping the world of business and has done some phenomenal things. If you would like to catch any of the previous guests that I have had the pleasure of meeting go to iTunes, Jazz Shapers is your destination. BA High Life next time you’re flying or Cityam.com to catch a few there as well. Craig Sams is who I have caught today from the world of Green & Black’s and he is the President still even though that business has been sold a couple of times now since Cadburys bought it and then Kraft bought Cadburys and on it goes. But way back we were talking Craig back when you actually set this business up it was driven by your values, driven by your take on the world. When did you realise you were onto a winner? How soon did you go hold on a second this is no ordinary chocolate business this is something else. Because it was something else I mean it’s defined many, many industries or businesses since then. When did you realise you had that?

Craig Sams
Probably the first realisation was just before we even launched the product and we came up, my wife Jo, came up with the name Green & Black’s.

Elliot Moss
Yeah what is the name about?

Craig Sams
Well I was thinking of Natuchoc, Biochoc, Choconature that sort of thing you know pretty tacky in retrospect and she said what about Green & Black’s. She always said if she was on Mastermind her speciality subject would be British confectionery 1956 to the present and in her mind was Callard & Bowser or Barker & Dobson or Charbonnel et Walker even in the more upmarket stage. But something that sounded like a partnership that had been around in German Street or Burlington Arcade for a long time and Green because it was organic and Black because nobody had ever done 70% chocolate before it was the darkest chocolate you could get was 49% mainly a cooking chocolate. So we had something that, and it was easy to pronounce too the Whole Earth brand that I built, that I had was unpronounceable you know you had to spell it out every time you spoke to a telephonist or a receptionist so you need something that was easy to recognise and pronounce anywhere in the world.

Elliot Moss
Now this was the first business if I am right where you scaled significantly versus the other ones which sounded like they didn’t quite reach that point. Is that correct?

Craig Sams
That’s not quite right the Whole Earth peanut butter which led to me looking for peanuts and finding cocoa beans was the second biggest brand after Sunpat by the late 1980s so we already had a supermarket brand we knew about dealing and we had the connections in the supermarkets because we were going and seeing the buyers about peanut butter, baked beans and other Whole Earth products. So we were already…

Elliot Moss
In that.

Craig Sams
And we had warehousing and distribution and all that side of things so doing Green & Black’s didn’t require starting from scratch in a sense it was patched onto the back of an existing successful brand.

Elliot Moss
And then therefore being patched on was it just much less stressful because you’d already kind of seen the problems and you’d seen how to manage the big supermarket chains and so on or were there other sorts of issues that came with it?

Craig Sams
I think it was easier to do because we didn’t have to deal with all those logistical problems. We already had them. We understood how to deal with supermarkets. In those days they were not as kind to small companies as they are now and my wife actively joined me in promoting it and marketing it and we had a sales force so it wasn’t as difficult as a start-up.

Elliot Moss
You seem very relaxed I mean I know this, we’re looking back now but were you pretty chilled then as well?

Craig Sams
I already had a successful business so I wasn’t sort of staying awake at night worrying too much about this. I did end up staying awake at night fairly soon afterwards but you know because cash flow is always an issue in any business but it wasn’t, I think the answer to the second part of your question is when we saw the Sainsbury’s buyer and he said when are you going to do a milk chocolate and we said, oh no we’re committed to high cocoa solids, dark chocolate. We’re probably going to do an 85% but we’re not planning to do any milk chocolate and he said look this is going to be big and if you don’t do a milk chocolate somebody else is going to come along and do an organic milk chocolate and an organic dark chocolate and we’ll take theirs because we don’t want to have to deal with lots of different people supplying different, you know we want a range and that kind of registered we have to do a range and we launched milk chocolate six months later and then we launched My Gold which was the first Fairtrade marked product the year after that.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me to find out more from my Business Shaper and the story of Green & Black’s and how it became so successful. Time for some more music this is Ella Fitzgerald with Sunshine Of Your Love.

That was Ella Fitzgerald with Sunshine Of Your Love. I’ve been talking to Craig Sams about all sorts of things. Craig, I mentioned earlier and the reason why you’re here is through the person that you’re mentoring, Cat. This experience that you’ve gained and whether it was through the Whole Earth business and then you applying that over to the Green & Black’s business. Tell me about temperament and what you say to fantastically fiery, passionate, driven entrepreneurs and Cat and anyone else how do you talk about managing emotion because it strikes me again I know that you’ve already done it once and stuff. I can’t talk for what you were like in the sixties and seventies I didn’t know you but you seem relatively unflappable. How do you help your mentorees manage that?

Craig Sams
The two most over used words in my experience are sustainable and passionate but they both have validity even though they do get over used and you have to be passionate about what you’re doing. You have to believe in what you’re doing and if you are passionate and you do believe in it then you are more likely to get it right because you’re constantly going to be examining yourself, questioning your own values. One of the things that people like Cat and certainly in my career I have experienced is people see you do something, they see that its successful so they copy it and then they start cutting corners. They use a cheaper ingredient, this or that in terms of food. They don’t have the underlying core values that can’t be really described but people understand it when they buy it. We saw this with our peanut butter many years ago. Nestle spent five million pounds after they had taken over Sunpat to kick us out of the market. They launched a product called Wholenut that sounded like Whole Earth they left the skins in like we did. They stopped using hydrogenated fat to be competitive and we expected we were going to die and we didn’t because somewhere deep in people’s consciousness they knew that we were ethical and doing the right thing and that we believed in what we were doing and I think that’s, people get that, people got that with Apple computers you know people just they can smell when something is right and that’s how you can build a durable brand.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for my final chat and words of wisdom too from my Business Shaper today that’s Craig Sams. Plus we’ll be playing a track from blues man Eric Bibb that’s after the latest traffic and travel here on Jazz FM.

That was Eric Bibb with A Dollar In My Pocket. I’m with Craig Sams whose dollars in the pocket were probably just fine after the Green & Black’s sale and he’s done pretty well. He was relaxed even in that business because his other business Whole Foods had also done pretty well too. It doesn’t strike me that money drives you I mean you talk about money as part of the story. What’s driving you now though Craig? What still pushes your buttons to use your words?

Craig Sams
Most of my career was about making people healthy, about providing the kind of food that produces a healthy digestive system. All disease begins in the gut there’s Hippocrates said so but I now have a business called Carbon Gold and Carbon Gold is about making the soil healthy. At the moment we’re losing thirty nine football fields a minute of viable agricultural soil because of the overuse of chemical fertilisers and pesticides and there is a solution. Organic farming is part of it, carbon farming takes organic farming and rebuilds soil carbon, soil organic matter. This is the now you know we started eight/nine years ago the Marrakech Climate Conference was largely, a big part of it was about how do we rebuild the soil as a carbon sink so its win/win. We take carbon out of the atmosphere, store it in the soil as organic matter and we then have healthier soil so we don’t have to depend on chemical fertilisers in order to grow enough food for the planet. So Carbon Gold is we basically grind up charcoal and put it in the soil and when you put it in the soil it’s like putting thousands of little castles or apartment buildings for the microbes and fungi in the soil that are beneficial for plants that are their immune system. So it’s like probiotics for the soil really. It makes the soil healthy, that makes plants healthy, that means you get more yields and you don’t have the same problems with diseases and pests that you would otherwise have. So it’s kind of I’ve gone right to the other end of the food chain from buying stuff from organic farmers, processing it and selling it to people to helping organic farmers and non-organic farmers to enrich their soil, reduce their dependence on external inputs and get healthier food into the bargain.

Elliot Moss
And what’s made you the most proud of all the things that you’ve done and continue to do? Is it what you’re doing now?

Craig Sams
I think launching Green & Black’s and creating the Fairtrade awareness was a big result. I’m also very proud with my brother Gregory of introducing brown rice into the country that’s kind of you know less so now but that became the one word description of a whole attitude towards food and the way of eating that was emerging. In fact the music business used to talk about, oh he’s into brown rice sandwiches dismissively but you know it took hold and it made a big difference you know and we had in our restaurant John Lennon and The Stones people like Terence Stamp they all came down because it was the only place where you could get brown rice that’s why my brother and I then started packing it and then we started manufacturing and got to where we got.

Elliot Moss
Well it’s been a pleasure talking to the food trail blazer. From brown rice to peanut butter to chocolate to Fairtrade and now to the soil it’s a pretty amazing set of things to have achieved already. Thank you so much for joining me and thank you for your time. Just before I let you go what’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Craig Sams
I chose Mose Allison, The Seventh Sun. When I was travelling in the East they had just come out with these little portable record players so one of the ways that I kept myself amused during long walks through rather desolate places was to sit down and play music. I had four albums one of which was Mose Allison, Roland Kirk, Kirk’s work, Georgie Fame Live at The Flamingo and an Arabic big band and it made friends wherever I went you know I had music and it kind of, this was before the hippy trail had really gotten into its stride so it was quite unusual to see a European of any kind in the places where I was travelling and Mose has always you know because sort of when I went to school on the school bus there were a couple of guys who sang Mose Allison’s songs you know Country Shack, Young Man that sort of thing and then we’d go down to The Flamingo Club and Georgie Fame would pay tribute to Mose Allison and Zig Manie for that matter and I’ve always really, he just rings a bell with me. I think maybe because he’s a fellow mid Westerner at some level but with a feeling for jazz so Seventh Sun that was my choice.

Elliot Moss
That was Mose Allison with the Seventh Sun, the song choice of my Business Shaper today Craig Sams. Core values driven right from the beginning from his first business it was about what he believed in. A real sense of passion for healthy eating and now healthy soil. Its brilliant stuff to watch and there’s money to be made as well as being focused on your values, brilliant stuff. Do join me again same time same place next Saturday, 9.00am for another edition of Jazz Shapers. Meantime stay with us because coming up next is Nigel Williams.

Craig Sams

Craig Sams was born on a farm in Nebraska. He has worked as a bottle deposit recovery operative, a caddy at an 18-hole country club, a shelf stacker, a grocery bag carry out boy, a newspaper delivery boy for the Omaha World Herald, a parking lot attendant for the Philadelphia Eagles, a dishwasher in Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity house at U.of Pa., a bartender at Billy’s Bar in Philadelphia, a model at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, a Yellow Cab driver, a substitute school teacher, a rock promoter in the Isle of Wight, a blood vendor, a busker in Karachi, a mold opener and scraper in a rubber dolly factory, a waiter at La Mer Restaurant in Malibu, a macrobiotic restaurateur, a silk dyer, a rock band manager, and the first importer of Afghan coats.

In 1967, Craig and his brother Gregory founded Whole Earth Foods, expanding from Seed, an organic macrobiotic restaurant into retail, wholesaling and manufacturing. Their health food company Whole Earth manufactured peanut butter. They published “Seed Magazine – The Journal of Organic Living” from 1971-1977.

In 1991, in partnership with Josephine Fairley, Craig founded Green & Black’s Organic Chocolate, the first product to carry the Fairtrade Mark. He is President of Green & Black’s, acquired by Cadbury’s in 2005 and subsequently by Kraft in 2010 and director of Duchy Originals, Soil Association Certification, Wellington Natural Wellbeing Centre and Carbon Gold. Craig is also a trustee of the Global Chant Foundation.

Craig is author of a number of books including About Macrobiotics, The Brown Rice Cookbook, The Little Food Book and The Story of Green & Black’s. In 2008, Craig founded Carbon Gold, to establish biochar as a means to restore degraded soils, enhance organic farming and sequester carbon dioxide to reverse climate change.

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

Follow Craig on Twitter @craigsams1.

My wife Jo came up with the name Green & Black’s. I was thinking of Biochoc or Choconature – that sort of thing, pretty tacky in retrospect.

I think the thing that really turns me on is doing something that hasn’t been done before. Doing something where you can do good and where you’re actually making a positive difference in the world.

If you are passionate and you believe in what you are doing then you are more likely to get it right because you will constantly examine yourself and question your own values.

Most of my career was about making people healthy, about providing the kind of food that produces a healthy digestive system.

At the moment we’re losing thirty nine football fields a minute of viable agricultural soil because of the overuse of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. And there is a solution.

We take carbon out of the atmosphere and store it in the soil as organic matter for healthier soil. It’s like building thousands of apartments for the microbes and fungi – probiotics basically.

We had John Lennon, The Stones and people like Terence Stamp in our restaurant because it was the only place where you could get brown rice.

People see you do something, they see that its successful and they copy it. Then they start cutting corners.

Consumers can smell when something is right – that’s how you can build a durable brand.