Marketing coaching paramount to fairtrade cocoa

The Trade for Development Centre (TDC) successfully coaches African cocoa farmers to improve their market access. As a result, sales figures have almost doubled.

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Farmers dry cocoa beans

© Dominique Deron

The Trade for Development Centre (TDC) - a programme of the Belgian development agency Enabel – not only promotes fairtrade in Belgium, but also assists producers abroad. In Ivory Coast for example, it helps cocoa farmers’ cooperatives to strengthen their position in national and international markets. The aim is to improve sales figures and thus enhance the income and living conditions of the farmers.

To this end, TDC selected some twenty experts in marketing and business development with an aim to coach the selected organisations locally.   

TDC selects the producer organisations with the greatest potential. It limits the number of participants and assumes that the good marketing practices adopted will filter through to other cooperatives.   

In February 2020, three of the selected Ivorian cocoa cooperatives (Ecamom, Ecam and Necaayo) have presented the results of the projects in Brussels, together with their coach Christine Englebert. For 10 years, Christine worked for big companies such as Nestlé and Colgate-Palmolive. Eventually, she familiarised herself with development cooperation and worked for Fairtrade Belgium, among others.

Basic principles

The TDC coaching programme runs for 3 years. Globally speaking, the coach visits the cooperatives 4 to 5 times, i.e. approximately every 6 months. Each visit lasts about one week. According to the producers of the three Ivorian cooperatives, these time intervals are perfect: ’It gave us time to think and to put into practice what we had discussed with Christine.’ Outside these periods, the coach remains available for answering questions via mail, telephone or even WhatsApp. They actively continue exchanging ideas with the producers.   

Marketing tips

The coach focusses on 2 key aspects: pure marketing and commercial capacity, on the one hand, and practical and financial organisation of the companies, on the other hand. “Co-creation” is essential. Although coaches bring their (marketing) expertise, the cocoa cooperatives are experts in their products. Their contribution, therefore, is of key importance.

What exactly do the marketing tips entail? ’We develop, for example, communication tools: logos, brochures, website, LinkedIn, etc.,’ Englebert says. ‘Moreover, we draw up a commercial plan together with the producers and we carry out a financial analysis (business review) in order to convince and bring in more clients. We also introduce producers to the international market so that they can take part in trade fairs. The three cooperatives will, for instance, soon be present at a chocolate fair in Amsterdam.’

A successful project?

At the presentation in Brussels, the three representatives of the producers’ cooperatives could barely contain their enthusiasm for the project. They ran through all the benefits. Ecam is particularly positive about the shared leadership: ‘Everyone can participate and express their point of view, whereas in the past only the chairman of the cooperative had a say.’

Besides, the contact with the partners and the buyers has changed a lot since Christine’s arrival: ‘The partners have more confidence in us. This is also reflected in the production figures which have risen from 2000 to 6000 tonnes of cocoa. We are now recognised by everyone.’

Ecamom confirms these statements and stresses the importance of a structured strategy: ‘We have proven that we have potential, we attract big buyers and promote exports.’ Finally, Necaayo stresses the importance of a well-trained team which attaches great importance to presentation and communication, but also to the financial and organisational aspect.


Despite the generally positive reactions to the TDC programme, they also encountered some problems. Before the start of the project, the producers only had a vague idea about marketing. ‘What is the purpose of it?, Isn’t it all about gadgets?’ So they were rather reluctant at first. But in the course of time, they understood that marketing was much more than advertising and that it was really useful. In addition, it is not always easy for cocoa farmers to make time available for the theoretical sessions, especially not during the harvesting period.  

Furthermore, the coach is occasionally confronted with certain challenges. Initially, it can be quite difficult to understand the needs of the producers and to gain their trust. It is therefore beneficial for the coach to return every six months. It gives the producers the opportunity to assimilate the marketing tips and put theory into practice. In addition, this period allows coach and producer to build a trust relationship.

The TDC coaching programme has nearly doubled the turnover and sales of the cocoa producers in Ivory Coast. Big companies such as Nestlé and Tony’s Chocolonely are now buying from the three Ivorian cocoa producers. Let them be an example to many other cocoa cooperatives in Ivory Coast!