Organic-food company founder
Born in 1944 in Nebraska; son of Ken Sams; married Josephine Fairley (a journalist and organic-food company executive). Education: Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, B.S., c. 1966.
Addresses: Home—Hastings, England. Office—c/o Green & Black's Ltd., 2 Valentine Pl., London SE1 8QH, England.
Ethnic-clothing importer in London, England, after 1966; opened Seed, a macrobiotic restaurant, London, England, c. 1967; co-founded Whole Earth Foods, 1970, and Green & Black's Organic Chocolate, 1991; sold company, 1999; chair, Soil Association of Britain, 2001–.
Organic foods pioneer Craig Sams has long been one of Britain's most committed advocates for healthy eating. In the late 1960s, Sams founded Whole Earth Foods in London, an organic-food company, and ran a number of side projects, including a magazine and a bakery, over the years. In the 1990s, he scored his first mainstream consumer-market coup with Green & Black's, the first chocolate bar in Britain to earn the "fair trade" designation. "From the outset, we called ourselves guilt-free chocolate," he told Body + Soul magazine, because "after cotton, cocoa is the most heavily sprayed crop on the planet."
Though he has lived in Britain for nearly all of his adult life, Sams was born on a farm in Nebraska in 1944. During his youth, his family lived in California, England, and then in the Nebraska city of Omaha. He studied economics at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and as his graduation date neared, an uncle offered him a thousand acres of Iowa farmland plus 700 head of cattle if he settled down on the property, but as Sams explained on his Web site, "like many of my contemporaries, I discovered the macrobiotic diet and developed an awareness of the unsustainability, both in terms of human health and of the environment, of the way that food and farming was going. I didn't want to be part of the problem and I aspired to help bring about the solution."
Sams moved to London in 1966 with the intention of opening a macrobiotic restaurant but he first worked as an importer of ethnic fashions that were popular with hippies and other members of the counterculture movement in the Notting Hill neighborhood where he had settled. His brother, Gregory, joined him in London, and their eatery, called Seed, was the first in Europe to serve an exclusively macrobiotic menu. It attracted a fashionable clientele, including members of the Rolling Stones and Beatles. The restaurant venture led to Whole Earth Foods, whose first product was an organic peanut butter. Over the next several years, the company grew in size and enjoyed a strong presence in British health-food stores with their no-sugar-added fruit spreads, cereals, and even a soft drink called Herbal Burble. Sams also opened a London bakery and health-food store he called Ceres—after the Roman goddess of agriculture—and published Seed Magazine—The Journal of Organic Living, with his brother and father for several years.
In 1991, Sams and his wife, Josephine Fairley, launched a separate division of Whole Earth Foods they called Green & Black's Organic Chocolate. It was necessary for the two brands to remain distinct because Whole Earth had always advertised that its products had no added sugar, and any chocolate product required sugar to tame the bitter taste of the pure cocoa solids used. Green & Black's first candy bar quickly proved a hit in upscale food shops across Britain for its premium taste; it was made from 70 percent cocoa solids, while the typical dark chocolate on the market at the time contained less than 45 percent cocoa solids.
Sams and Fairley were dedicated to finding an honest source of that cocoa as their company's mission. They worked with cacao suppliers in Togo, a small West African nation, but then civil unrest in the country began to affect production, so Sams made contact with Mayan farmers in Belize, the Central American nation situated between Mexico and Guatemala. A few years earlier, there had been a foreign-aid project in the region to help set up a cacao-farming industry. British and American aid agencies helped arrange loans for local farmers to buy land and trees for planting, but as Sams explained on his Web page, "as soon as the aid workers had gone Hershey's buying agent progressively reduced the price paid from $1.80 to … 55¢ a pound. This took place as the trees that had been planted were maturing, and farmers were confronted with the desperate need to make money to pay back the debts they had incurred at the local bank," he wrote. "Many had to leave home to seek migrant work as orange pickers or sugar cane cutters on plantations in the north."
Sams' company stepped in and offered the farmers $1.75 per pound for their effort. The Belize connection proved a more reliable one, and in March of 1994 Green & Black's introduced the Maya Gold bar, which became the first chocolate product to earn the International Fairtrade Certification Mark. The designation tells consumers that the product has been grown and/or manufactured according to certain standards; the farmer, for example, receives a wholesale price for what he has grown that amounts to a living wage in his or her region.
Sams and Fairley live in Hastings, England, in a house constructed with eco-friendly materials and where they recycle nearly everything they can; they also avoid driving a car unless absolutely necessary. Sams is an avid gardener, and has chaired Britain's Soil Association since 2001. The organization promotes organic gardening and establishes standards for organically grown produce. He has also written several books on organic food, dating back to About Macrobiotics in 1972, and continues to develop new products, such as the "Nomato." As he explained in an interview with Amy Raphael for the Observer, "I first made Nomato spaghetti sauce in 1970 with pumpkin puree but there was no market. Now there is; for those on a macrobiotic diet and those with rheumatoid arthritis. Cutting out members of the nightshade family—including tomatoes, potatoes and aubergines—helps to reduce inflammation."
In 1999 Sams sold his controlling interest in Whole Earth Foods, along with the Green & Black's candy company, to the New Covent Garden Soup Company. The organic chocolate company later became part of Cadbury Schweppes, the world's largest confectionary company. The growing interest in organic products—with major agribusiness producers entering the market, and supermarket chains launching their own organic-food labels—did not surprise him. "People are taking control of things like their health," he told a writer for London's Independent, David Nicholson-Lord. "The urban masses are getting back to their roots, they're connecting back to what they're eating. And that's what the big guys have recognised now."
Body + Soul, October 2006, p. 24.
Independent (London, England), September 21, 1999, p. OF7.
New York Times, June 21, 2000.
Observer (London, England), April 18, 2004), p. 53.
Craig Sams Home Page, http://www.craigsams.com/ (February 9, 2007).