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  • Writer's pictureRuth Palmer

The Power of Shared Values: How Abel & Cole Built a Thriving Purpose-Driven Brand

Updated: Jan 3

Today we will be taking a metaphorical look under the hood of the bright yellow delivery vans of organic food delivery company, Abel & Cole. It's a bit of a long one, so grab yourself a cuppa.

We’re going to use our Magnetic brand framework to understand how Abel & Cole’s have buiult their tribe. When we build a brand strategy with a founder, we use this model. Magnetic brands have something to believe in, tell your stories through a powerful storyteller, and motivate their tribe to share their message. To find out more about this framework sign up to our newsletter, and this will be your first issue.

Something to believe in

Abel and Cole are clearly a purpose-driven brand. Their BCorp certification provides a recognised badge by way of proof, but the brand’s purpose “to provide easy ways to help the planet” runs deep. Abel & Cole sell only organic, wild or ethically and sustainably produced products delivered to your door weekly.

Their partnerships beyond the sourcing of products go very deep and wide, from partnering with ReLondon to work out the best way to package their milk to working with City Harvest and The Felix Project to repurpose food waste. They have their own scheme whereby one portion of fresh fruit or veg is given to someone in need with every veg box sold and they work closely with the RSPCA, B Lab, MSC, Compassion in World Farming and the Soil Association. They are even the first organic food delivery company in the world to have joined the​ UN’s Climate Neutral Now Initiative​, and to have achieved the​ Carbon Neutral International Standard​.

Abel & Cole really live by their purpose statement. They are constantly innovating to get closer to that goal and you can feel it; the evidence is everywhere. Their purpose is designed into their brand:

  • The FAQs section on the website is very deep. You can get an answer to almost every sustainability question you have

  • You can order a free plastic bag to collect all your flexible plastics that are hard to recycle

  • 2400 of their delivery vans are electric, with a goal of zero tailpipe emissions by 2028

  • From time to time they pick up your old books for children in need

  • The calendar that is sent every year and acts as a permanent reminder of what a good egg you are

  • They leave little paper notes in your box letting you know why your lemons are a bit green (and it's always a very good reason that brings you closer to how they are grown with the planet in mind)

  • The email you get when you update your order says “your planet friendly order has been updated”

  • All products have an "eco label" letting you know its sustainability credentials

  • This is really just the tip of the iceberg, but you get the idea!

What can we learn?

  • It's what you do not what you say

  • The detail matters, go deep and wide

  • Innovation keeps the belief alive

  • Partnerships add credibility, belief and sometimes audience too

A powerful storyteller

Abel & Cole storyteller is friendly, positive and wholeheartedly good. If I were to imagine a personality to embody Abel & Cole it would probably be something like David Attenborough for his authenticity and all round good-ness and Jamie Oliver for his simplicity and fun.

Abel & Cole’s storytelling centres around the benefits of organic farming and sustainable living. These bite-sized stories about the producers really affirm the values-based choice you are making. Did you know the average (non organic) dairy cow lives around 4-5 years, whereas the cows that provide Abel & Cole’s organic milk live for 14-15? That’s an incredible difference, and a very shareable story.

But more often than not, the voice of the brand is channelled through the voice of their producers and suppliers. All these voices share a collective personality, one of diligence and doing what is right for people and planet. It’s inspiring and something you can’t help but want to be part of if you share those values.

Most recently, they have launched refillable plastic milk bottles as part of their “Club Zero” product range (refillable products to reduce single use packaging). They have done a really good job of obsessing about the details (watch out for a later post on this) of the decision not to use glass (because the carbon footprint of glass would be way higher). This initiative will save 23 tonnes of plastic waste a year. That gives people a story to share that makes them feel good too.

You can really geek-out on this sustainability stuff on the Abel & Cole website if you want. Their storytelling is deep and it demonstrates huge credibility and builds a lot of trust.

What can we learn?

  • Who would be a good storyteller for your brand?

  • Make your story your customers' story by tapping into shared values

  • Try going deep on the detail to demonstrate the depth of your purpose

Motivate your tribe

As you can see, Abel & Cole have built a wide network of people and companies with shared values. This network effect builds not only credibility and trust but grows their reach.

But real loyalty comes one person at a time, and starts inside the company.

Shared values around sustainability and food are what draw people to want to work for Abel & Cole, and because of this they have built a culture firmly rooted in their purpose. One of their job applications reads:

"We’ve learnt how important it is to recognise, develop and promote from within; and that trusting people lets them come up with the best ideas and that helps our entrepreneurial spirit to thrive."

Culture creates such positive momentum in a startup when you get it right, so hiring based on shared values really pays off in both the short and long-term. Abel & Cole go as far as putting this above skills and experience, and they're not alone. The culture section of Patagnoia’s website reads

"We seek out “​​dirtbags” who feel more at home in a base camp or on the river than they do in the office. All the better if they have excellent qualifications for whatever job we hire them for, but we’ll often take a risk on an itinerant rock climber that we wouldn’t on a run-of-the-mill MBA.”

Relationships are clearly very important to Abel & Cole. This is very evident in their commitment to long-term partnerships with their suppliers, some of whom have been working with Abel & Cole from the beginning. You get the impression from reading about these partnerships that these suppliers are very much part of the Abel & Cole family.

When you join Abel & Cole as a customer, you feel like an extended family member too. Part of a tribe who are committed to making the right choices for the planet. This really elevates the experience beyond transactional. They are truly helping people to become better versions of themselves Buying from Abel & Cole is a proudly worn badge of allegiance. They also help you share the joy by offering free boxes to friends. If something is not quite right in your box, they’ll also refund it without a fuss, even if it’s a high value item. They reward loyalty with the occasional gift, and this creates shareable experiences that build the perception of the brand as wholeheartedly good.

What can we learn?

  • Hire based on values first, skills second

  • Nurture relationships, give people a voice, listen

  • It's not just your customers who make up your tribe, it's your whole ecosystem

  • Nurture and look after your customers, they will be your champions and help you grow

Building a magnetic brand doesn't have to cost the earth, it's about starting with purpose and being creative in the way you express it.

Have you come across a magnetic brand recently? Drop me a line and let me know!

If you found this useful, could you do me a favour and share this with a friend who you think might like it too? Thank you!

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