Tell the Fair Trade Story

Fair trade products offer expanding opportunities for co-ops

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Values long held within the cooperative business community are now hitting the mainstream. More and more consumers are asking not only, “Is this good for me?” but also, “Is this good for others and the environment?” This is great news for cooperative grocery stores already offering diverse selections of Fair Trade products. These retailers are ahead of the pack, poised to tell the Fair Trade story better than anyone and set the standard for how it is done, potentially drawing a new customer base from the mainstream.

Fair Trade: the need for sustainability
Throughout the global south, family farmers follow generations of tradition to cultivate food products we enjoy every day. Yet many small-scale farmers in the developing world don’t receive a fair price for their crops. Isolated rural communities lack direct market access, often selling their premium crops below the cost of production to local middlemen. A cycle of debt forces many to abandon their land and years of agricultural heritage, destroying the social and cultural fabric of these communities. When farming communities in the developing world suffer, the whole world suffers—from forced immigration, inferior quality products, and large-scale farming methods that often compromise the environment.

Fair Trade Certified™ products directly support a better life for farming families in the developing world through fair prices, direct trade, community development, and environmental stewardship. Fair Trade farmers market their own harvests through direct, long-term contracts with international buyers, learning how to bootstrap their businesses and compete in the global marketplace. This empowerment lifts farming families from poverty through trade, not aid, keeping food on the table, children in school, and families on their land.

Fair Trade is booming!
Nearly 90 percent of Americans say it’s important for companies to be mindful of their impact on the environment and society, with 70 percent saying they’re more likely to support companies that do, according to a 2005 study by the Natural Marketing Institute. But talk is cheap; the real proof is at the cash register. The growth of Fair Trade products proves that consumers are voting for a better world with their purchases, demanding sustainable, ethically sourced goods.

Fair Trade Certified coffee is currently the fastest growing segment of the $11 million U.S. specialty coffee industry. At Vermont-based Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Fair Trade coffee sales outpace overall company sales by three to one, and wholesale customers who offer their Fair Trade coffee are growing 20 percent faster than those who do not. Over 100 million pounds of Fair Trade Certified coffee have entered the U.S. market since 1999, growing an average 75 percent every year. Retail sales increased from $50 million in 2000 to over $500 million by 2005, according to nonprofit TransFair USA, the only independent, third-party certifier of Fair Trade products for the U.S. market.

Other Fair Trade Certified products are also booming: tea grew 187 percent in 2005, and cocoa went from 14,000 lbs. in 2002 to over 1 million lbs. in 2005. Other Fair Trade Certified products include sugar, rice, vanilla, bananas, mangos, grapes, and pineapples. Nationwide, around 500 companies are licensed to sell Fair Trade Certified products at over 35,000 retail locations. TransFair USA is one of 21 members of Fairtrade Labeling Organizations International (FLO), the world’s most rigorous social, economic, and environmental certification system.

Fair Trade business principles also benefit artisans in the developing world, often creating and sustaining home-centered economic opportunities for women, elderly, and other marginalized community members. Fair Trade handcrafts and jewelry account for 20 percent of the U.S. Fair Trade market, second only to Fair Trade Certified coffee, according to the Fair Trade Federation (FTF), an association of wholesalers, retailers, and producers who collectively verify each others’ business practices. FTF member sales have increased by roughly 40 percent every year since 2001.

For handcrafts and other food products that don’t yet have an independent, product-level Fair Trade certification process, total transparency is the only way for FTF members to build trust with suppliers, retailers, and consumers. FTF member World of Good, an Alternative Trade Organization, is developing an online floor-pricing tool for handcraftscalled the Fair Trade Wage Guide, which could solve some of the technical obstacles to Fair Trade certification for jewelry, textiles, furniture, and other unique items.

Selling tips
The increasing growth of Fair Trade gives retailers an opportunity to shape consumer awareness of Fair Trade as a product category unto itself. Following is a checklist for Fair Trade success.

Take advantage of Fair Trade Month in October. Create a Fair Trade product section and put Fair Trade products on sale. Host tastings and demos and, when possible, coordinate farmer visits through Fair Trade product manufacturers or nonprofit groups like TransFair USA. “Anytime a personal, emotional connection can be made, which happens quite naturally when we’re able to host visiting producers, the fair trade message not only is communicated, it takes hold,” said Stephanie Steiner, grocery merchandiser for PCC Natural Markets in Seattle. And inquire about other months—a Fair Trade producer may already be scheduled for a tour in your region.

Promote the Discover Fair Trade Sweepstakes. One lucky winner and a guest will visit Fair Trade Certified coffee, banana, and cocoa cooperatives in Costa Rica to meet the farmers who grow their daily staples and to see for themselves how Fair Trade has transformed local communities. This trip will also include an eco-tour of nature reserves and beaches. Twenty additional first-prize winners will receive a basket of Fair Trade products. The contest begins late September; visit www.discoverfairtrade.org for more details.

Enter the retail display contest. The retailer that creates the best “Discover Fair Trade” store display will win a trip for two to Costa Rica, along with winners of the consumer sweepstakes.

Carry multiple Fair Trade product options. Retailers draw more attention to their initial investment with every Fair Trade product they add. Between 2003 and 2005, worker-owned cooperative Equal Exchange doubled its annual sales of Fair Trade Certified coffee, cocoa, chocolate, and tea, from $10.4 to $20.8 million. Alter Eco offers one of the most extensive Fair Trade Certified product lines in the U.S., including coffee, tea, chocolate, cocoa, rice, sugar, and fairly traded quinoa.

With so many affordable, high-quality origins to choose from, commit to 100-percent Fair Trade coffee. After Wild Oats Markets converted its coffee to 100-percent Fair Trade Certified in 2002, first year sales grew 20 percent and in the second year 15 percent, leading to a successful expansion into all other Fair Trade Certified products.

Create a Fair Trade section to increase visibility and establish Fair Trade as a distinct product category, while continuing to embed Fair Trade products prominently throughout the store. Alter Eco COO Edouard Rollet says that European Fair Trade awareness has increased at the rate that retailers commit shelf space to Fair Trade products. “Retailers have found that prominent displays of Fair Trade products have reinforced their image in terms of their commitment to sustainable development, thereby contributing to increased customer loyalty,” said Rollet.

Tell the Fair Trade story. Fair Trade is a story, and telling that story is the secret to selling more Fair Trade products. In 2005, PCC Natural Markets developed an informative, visually rich in-store display that connected Fair Trade products with their source, “so that shoppers could more readily understand the parts of the world and the people who benefit from their purchase,” said Steiner. TransFair USA’s national retail development manager Chris White agrees: “Telling the story of Fair Trade is key. Companies that do are having incredible success, and those that don’t, aren’t—it’s really that simple.”

Take advantage of Fair Trade promotional material from product manufacturers and nonprofit organizations. Offer customers written and visual materials that describe Fair Trade so they better understand the power of their purchase, and make sure your staff is equally inspired and informed—two essential components to driving sales.

Fair Trade Resources
October is Fair Trade Month, and TransFair USA is offering Fair Trade Certified product manufacturers, retailers, and supporters numerous resources, including:


  • Point-of-purchase promotional material

  • DVDs and other tools to educate staff and customers

  • Email blast and article templates

  • Sweepstakes and display contest links

  • Distributor programs and retailer lists

  • Grants, sponsorships, graphics, and much more

Visit www.fairtrademonth.org for more information. Year-round, visit www.transfairusa.org under “Resources” for a complete list of materials, including posters, shelf talkers, brochures, table tents, window and bin clings, producer profiles, FAQs, newsletters, Fair Trade news and events, and much more!

For more information about Fair Trade handcrafts, including how to get a complimentary World of Good kiosk in your store, sourcing criteria, and the innovative Fair Trade wage tool, visit www.worldofgoodwholesale.com.

See other articles from this issue: #126 September - October - 2006