Serial business innovator Craig Sams, Co-founder and Chairman of organic luxury chocolate manufacturer Green & Black’s, was guest speaker at an Innovation Masterclass for local businesses hosted by Invest Northern Ireland today.
Mr Sams delivered an inspirational address to delegates from a wide range of local companies, highlighting how adopting innovative practices in all areas of the business can drive growth and sales success. He emphasised how companies of any size can begin to innovate right away, without any major investment, and see improved performance.
Relating how Green & Black’s has grown rapidly from a small husband-and-wife venture to one of the world’s leading organic chocolate manufacturers, Mr Sams told of how the company employs innovative techniques in all aspects of the business – from branding and packaging, to production methods and staff development.
These factors, including its commitment to fair treatment of cocoa growers, helped the company to secure a multi-million pound takeover by Cadbury Schweppes in 2005. Mr Sams has since established an organic bakery and delicatessen in Hastings, East Sussex and opened a natural health centre offering classes in yoga and healthy baking.
Addressing delegates at the event in the Grand Opera House in Belfast, Mr Sams said: “I established Green & Black’s in 1991 with my wife Jo Fairley after we discovered by chance the unique taste of 70 per cent dark chocolate made with organic cocoa beans.
“Right from the beginning we were determined to use innovative methods to drive our business forward. We constantly questioned every aspect of our operations, from website design to product development to sales methods, in order to identify improvements.”
He continued: “By becoming the first UK company to achieve the Fairtrade mark, for example, this gave us a unique marketing angle and enabled us to develop a loyal, niche customer base. Indeed, we have found that even relatively simple product or process tweaks could result in significant cost savings and sales success.”
“I would encourage all businesses in Northern Ireland to consider how they can, through innovation, differentiate their products and services from the competition.”
Tracy Meharg, Invest NI’s Managing Director of Innovation and Capability Development, said: “Last year, through our Innovation Week activities, Invest NI highlighted innovation as a key driver of business success and the need for all businesses, across all sectors to embrace its principles.
“To ensure that local firms have access to the information and support they need to realise their creative potential, Invest NI will hold a series of events around Northern Ireland in 2008. These events will encourage companies to consider how they can drive their operations and achieve export growth by identifying and implementing simple but fundamental techniques and practices.
“Innovation is not just limited to big companies investing large amounts in high-tech R&D – even a small investment in innovation, perhaps for the first time, can help any company accelerate business growth by identifying new opportunities and opening up new markets.”
Ms Meharg added: “Local companies adopting more innovative practices at all levels will significantly contribute towards generating additional wealth for Northern Ireland as a whole.”
As well as the Innovation Masterclass, attended by a wide range of Invest NI clients, Invest NI also hosted an informal breakfast seminar for clients of its Eastern Regional Office interested in finding out how to scale-up their businesses through innovation.