A slave-free chocolate industry?

Tony’s Chocolonely Chocolate Circus is the brand home of Dutch Chocolate brand Tony’s Chocolonely.

Verlinvest is a family-owned, consumer-focused, investment company, founded in 1995.  The company manages assets of over €1.6bn in multiple geographies.

9 Degrees West were hired to provide due diligence and industry expertise on the investment in Tony’s Chocolonely, a Dutch chocolate brand whose mission is to eradicate modern slavery in the chocolate industry.

Though many people don’t realise it, the chocolate industry today is still not 100% slave free. Tony’s exists to shake this market up, to lead by example and make a worldwide impact. The international growth of Tony’s will involve many people – farmers, consumers, retailers, other chocolate companies and governments. Many people need to work together in the mission to make chocolate 100% slave free.

Ben has been supporting Verlinvest since the summer of 2019, providing in-depth analysis of the business plan and helping to refine the concept for Tony’s Chocolonely Chocolate Circus. TCCC will be an exciting brand home for Tony’s, complete with a rollercoaster which is planned to open in 2023 in Zaandam, Holland.

Tony’s Chocolonely Chocolate Circus is coming!

In February 2019 Tony’s made the following announcement

“We have had many conversations recently and the word is finally out: we are going to work with Verlinvest and JamJar! We’re really proud of this, ‘cause Verlinvest is an investment company which has also invested in super cool sustainable brands like Oatly and Vita Coco. Investment company JamJar was founded by innocent drinks founders (eh, juicy fact: some of our Tony’s used to work there too!)“.

Please do contact Ben via the email on the site, or reach out to me on Linkedin if you would like to find out more!

“We’re excited about working with Ben and 9 Degrees West to deliver Tony’s Chocolonely Chocolate Circus, a strategic brand-enhancing project for one of our newest partners.”

Ben Black
Principal, Verlinvest

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M&A Advisory: theme-parks & visitor attractions.

Since the founding of 9 Degrees West in 2018, we have assisted many professional investment and consultancy firms across the world. Typically these assignments are part of an industry benchmarking exercise or as in the case of Gimv, a need for M&A Advisory.

Ben is an IAAPA member in good standing and regular attendee at global conferences and EXPOs. This together with his in-depth knowledge gained at Merlin and Disney makes him an idea “river guide” for investors new to the industry.

Gimv is a European investment company with almost four decades’ experience of investing in private companies. Listed on Euronext Brussels since 1997, Gimv manages around 1.1 billion EUR invested in about 55 portfolio companies.  They focus on 4 platforms; Connected Consumer, Health & Care, Smart Industries and Sustainable Cities.

European Theme Park market assessment

Gimv recently contracted 9 Degrees West to conduct due diligence on the European theme park market, and one multi-park operator in particular. Given our deep understanding of the market, and the network we maintain across the industry, we were able to provide rapid and high value assessment from desk-based research. In addition to this at the request of our client, we visited the sites and conducted a detailed review and written report into the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats facing the operator in question.

“We appointed Ben to conduct commercial due diligence and advisory on a European theme park business in the context of a competitive M&A process.

Since our first contact we have been impressed by Ben’s knowledge and expertise of the theme park market, the various players and industry dynamics. He also demonstrated a good understanding of our needs as investors and over-performed on the set objectives within the agreed timeframe.

Finally and not less important, Ben has an entrepreneurial and proactive mindset combined with a unique sense of humour that was highly appreciated by all members of our deal team.”

Nicolas De Bruyne,
Associate, Connected Consumer, Gimv

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Corporate Marketing Partnerships

Corporate Partnerships and Sponsorship is often under-estimated when building indoor attractions or visitor centres. In our experience building purposeful and profitable brands, strong corporate partnerships are an essential and rewarding part of the marketing mix.

(Ben led Corporate Partnerships for Merlin Entertainments New Openings, liaising between the parent LEGO brand, the park and Merlin head office. Under his leadership Merlin enjoyed record sponsorship revenues on the launches of LEGOLAND Japan and Dubai. It was because of this expertise that KidZania sought out 9 Degrees West for help with the London facility).

What is KidZania?

KidZania is an interactive city for children 1-14 combining inspiration, fun and learning through realistic role-play. KidZania’s mission is to enable children to “build a better world“.

KidZania is one of the fastest growing entertainment brands in the world. There are 28 open facilities and 11 under development. As a result, KidZania welcomed nearly 10m visitors in 2019, in 21 countries.

KidZania London hired Ben to refresh their Corporate Partnerships and Sponsorship strategy, and to identify new partners.

Industry partnerships are a fundamental part of KidZania’s business model, providing highly realistic, immersive experiences for children. In order to make the experience realistic, they are built like real stores or in the case of the British Airways Aviation Academy, training academies! Establishments also include the H&M Fashion Recycling Studio and the Nintendo Labo Workshop.

What was the process?

Ben initially conducted a strategic review, identifying a short-list of brands who were likely to have a strong desire for a KidZania partnership. Because of this thorough approach, Ben assembled a list of nearly 600 potential corporate partners. All of these brands share Kidzania’s brand values and belief in the potential of children.

Ben then reinvigorated KidZania’s creative approach,  bringing fresh energy and ideas to the pitch development process, encouraging the team to go deeper into the strategy and identity of the potential partner brands.

What happened?

As a result of Ben’s efforts KidZania London were able to move rapidly into high quality, professionaly managed meetings with some of the biggest names in the corporate world.  Results from the first phase of work are extremely encouraging, with positive conversations ongoing with several of the UK’s largest corporations.

What is really exciting about the conversations KidZania are now having with partners is that the full C-suite is involved, especially the teams responsible for environmental, social and corporate governance. Today’s progressive companies are realising that CSR (as it used to be known) is no longer something that sits in the background, but must become an active part of product, service and communications.

“We appointed Ben to help us organise our industry partner strategy, to refine our creative process and help us attract new partners.  

Since our first contact we were extremely impressed by Ben’s knowledge and expertise corporate partnerships, and the various players and industry dynamics. He demonstrated an excellent understanding of our needs and because of this he made a big difference to the KidZania business in a short period of time.

Ben has a great attitude to his work, is creative, proactive and diligent, with a highly engaging style which really worked for us and our partners.”

Ric Fearnett, Chief Executive Officer,
KidZania London

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Since we incorporated in February 2018, 9 Degrees West have been steadily gaining a reputation for Building Purposeful Brands. Because of this that we’re very proud to have Grupo Cataratas as a major client.

Who are the Cataratas Group?

Grupo Cataratas are the largest park operator in South America, with six incredible locations including the world famous Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio, the Rio Aquarium and the Iguaçu Falls, “the greatest waterfall in the world” according to travel experts Touropia.

What is a Purposeful Brand?

These days every brand owner knows that developing and communicating a strong environmental, or ESG message is critical for long-term health. In order to keep up with this companies treat this as window-dressing, or worse, “green-washing”. The Cataratas Group are different, the only reason they exist is to leave a positive legacy in the environment and communities in which they operate. They have a huge financial commitment to conservation, species regeneration and scientific research.  It’s because of this that we feel justified in calling them a Purposeful Brand.

We are helping Grupo Cataratas with a major growth acceleration program. This includes digital transformation to create a true omnichannel business, guest experience improvement across the estate, and brand expansion of their Aquarium and Zoo brands throughout Brazil and South America.

What difference have we made?

As a result of our initial phase of support, visitation is growing! The Iguaçu park recently recorded its first ever year of 2 million visitors, and this growth shows no signs of slowing!

In addition to this, we recently helped the team to re-conceive, build and re-launch the Rio Zoo as “Rio Bio-Park”, the first park of its kind in Brazil. Following our support, BioParque do Rio will be a national centre for species regeneration, research and environmental science.

“9 Degrees West have already made a substantial contribution to our business, helping us to create a clear vision for growth in 2020 and beyond, and playing a leading role in our digital transformation project.

Because of Ben’s background and passion for making a difference in our world, 9 Degrees West are really exceptional at Building Purposeful Brands…in addition to this, Ben is incredibly knowledgeable about our industry and has been able to understand our market and our requirements rapidly. We love working with Ben!”

Bruno Marques,
CEO, Grupo Cataratas

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Theme Park Consultancy

Mirow & Co. are a strategic consulting firm based in Brazil with offices all over the world; they hired 9 Degrees West to deliver Theme Park Consultancy on an M&A deal. The Mirow team consists of highly experienced professionals from both strategic consulting firms (mainly McKinsey & Company) and distinguished executive positions in many sectors.

9 Degrees West were hired for their skills in Theme Park Consultancy; to provide a deep-dive analysis of the global theme-park market, and to advise a major global investment house on an M&A project.

M&A Advisory and Due Diligence are a speciality of 9 Degrees West. In the last year we have consulted directly on three major deals on both sides of the atlantic. Our clients appreciate our depth of knowledge, speed of delivery and the ease with which we work with different members of the deal team.

“Ben, your knowledge and expertise in the theme park market, in retail and in marketing in general are outstanding. We loved the way you engaged with and added value to us and our client. You have a great energy and charisma, and we really look forward to working with you again on future projects around the world.”

Andreas Mirow
Founder and Managing Partner Mirow & Co.

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Launching New Theme Parks.

Merlin is the second largest theme-park and visitor attraction business in the world, with over 67million guests visiting every year and revenues of over £1.6bn. Ben was Global Senior Marketing Director for New Openings during a period where 2 LEGOLAND parks were opened, and around 16 indoor attractions or “Midways”.

What was Ben’s role at Merlin?

Ben held the role of Global Marketing Director for New Openings at Merlin. His job was to lead marketing and sales launches of 4 new LEGOLAND theme parks and 40 Midway sites, as well as developing new brands.

What did he learn?

The experiences gained at Merlin gave Ben a deep insight into the theme park and visitor attraction business, from research and concept development, to business development, the creative and launch process. Because of this, Ben had the privelege of learning the “Merlin Marketing way” directly from CEO Nick Varney, one of the leading marketers of his generation.

Ben was centrally involved in the launch of LEGOLAND Japan and the pre-opening phase of LEGOLAND New York, as well as projects in Shanghai, India, Dubai and South Korea.

What was Ben’s experience with the Digital First agenda?

In addition to this, Ben was fortunate to work at a senior level for Merlin at the start of a major digital transformation project, and to be able to see and help execute the transformation in new sites across the globe. The process has ultimately seen Merlin on the road to becoming a digital-first organisation, with substantial growth in online ticket sales, especially in mobile commerce.

In a 2019 investor update, Merlin reported that “77% of their admissions are now purchased on a smart device (up from circa 30% in 2015)…30% of all app users now sign up to active marketing from the company and 32% of all revenue now comes from online (compare to circa 20% in 2015). Merlin expect this figure to reach 50% by 2021.”

Ben has since adapted his learnings at Merlin to create a digital guest journey framework for 9 Degrees West clients.

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The Walt Disney company is by common agreement the most powerful entertainment brand in the world, generating $59.43bn USD in 2018 after a wave of acquisitions and dominant performances at the box office over the past 7 years since the purchase of Marvel in 2012 and Lucasfilm in 2014.

Ben had the privilege to work in a central marketing role for Disney Consumer Products, interacting with all lines of business, from theme-parks to TV & Movie Studios. For 5 amazing years during one of the most dynamic periods in the company’s history, Ben worked to integrate Marvel and Star Wars brands with the existing Disney brands, and played a leading role as Marketing Director first for the UK and then the EMEA business, as the company transformed itself to become a franchise-led organisation; creating high quality content, fully embracing technology, and becoming a truly global company.

One of Ben’s proudest achievements came when Disney’s CMO and SVP of Consumer Products set him this challenge…

  • We’re losing relevance with families…
  • We’re perceived as overly commercial by some…
  • Revenues are flat outside of peak movie periods…

We went back to the basics of what makes Disney loved all over the world… Unforgettable family moments… especially Parties.

We took a stressful, emotionally taxing and disorganised guest experience and logistical nightmare…and turned it into a “Thank you” Disney moment…

…a new e-commerce and social platform (Disney Party) tested in the UK, now integrated with the Disney family site….

  • Substantial projected incremental sales
  • Step-change margin improvement
  • Disney CMO joins Marketing Hall of fame!

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Mars is the 6th largest private company in the world, with revenues of $35bn in 2018. Mars operates in five business segments, Confectionery, Petcare, Food, Drinks and Symbioscience.

Ben worked for Mars for 11 years, joining on the Graduate program and leaving after 3 years as Director of Category Leadership, after roles in Marketing, Sales and Category Strategy. Whilst at Mars, Ben had the immense privilege of being personally trained in marketing by Byron Sharpe, author of the seminal work on marketing “How Brands Grow” and in company strategy, turnaround and business transformation by Professor Don Sull of London Business School.

One of Ben’s proudest achievements at Mars was the creation of a new strategic template for the Petcare category which lead to 3 consecutive years of share gain and 3 years of #1 rating by retailers.

“Having spent many years in the field of talent management, I have complete confidence in ascribing Ben Thompson as “One To Watch”. Having recruited him on to the Mars accelerated development programme, I have watched him grow and mature as a leader. His principal strengths are his integrity, warmth, drive, humour, humility and his innate ability to win others over in seconds. It is truly inspirational to see him in action and turn all of these strengths into great business results.”

Arvi Dhesi
Senior Client Partner
Korn Ferry

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FreeFlow is a British technology company combining talent from the cycling world, Dyson and Williams Advanced Engineering. They are designers and inventors who solve real-world problems, focussed on revolutionising the e-bike market.

9 Degrees West researched the e-bike market and developed the brand strategy and competitive positioning for FreeFlow, helping to focus the whole team on the single-minded proposition – to provide “the ultimate ride experience“.

“You nailed it! We are delighted with the work you have done to create a solid communication base for our new e-bike technology. The marketplace is crowded so it is very easy to bob along with the crowd, but you have articulated our sparkle perfectly to ensure we stand out. Well done and we look forward to working with you on the next stage of our project.”

Martin McCourt
10-year CEO of Dyson and FreeFlow Chairman

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Pipo is the first-ever platform where individuals can go public just like companies do and attract investors for any reason they want, like going for the career they’ve always wanted, starting a business, getting a college degree, and many more.

Ben helped the founder clarify the brand proposition, create the marketing strategy, prepare investment presentations and introduce to private investors and VCs in the city of London, leading to securing angel investment and a successful launch of the world’s first crowdfunded individual!

“Ben is a true professional and an incredible asset to any startup or established company. He can wear multiple hats, fill various roles and be exceptional at each of them. With a skill set that runs wide and deep, Ben has a rare combination of Marketing expertise, leadership skills, and business understanding that enables him to analyze any complex challenge and build out the strategy to solve it. Ben is all of smart, hands-on, responsible and willing to take on a wide swath of tasks needing attention.”

Shahar Burg,
CEO Pipo

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