Fair Fare

Lately, all's fair in the supermarket. Fair Trade, that is. Though the designation used to be reserved for single-ingredient items like coffee, Fair Trade Certified Ingredients labels have begun to crop up all over the store on composite products that combine Fair Trade commodities like sugar, rice and vanilla with ingredients for which there are no Fair Trade standards. Ben & Jerry's Coffee Coffee

Lately, all's fair in the supermarket. Fair Trade, that is.

Though the designation used to be reserved for single-ingredient items like coffee, Fair Trade Certified Ingredients labels have begun to crop up all over the store on “composite products” that combine Fair Trade commodities like sugar, rice and vanilla with ingredients for which there are no Fair Trade standards.

Ben & Jerry's Coffee Coffee Buzz Buzz Buzz! ice cream, for instance, contains Fair Trade Certified coffee extract, while Simply Organic Chai Spice Scone Mix counts Fair Trade Certified organic cane sugar and organic granulated cane juice among its ingredients.

“A lot of the products out there are now made with Fair Trade ingredients, which means that they are not 100% Fair Trade, but at least some ingredients are certified,” said Anthony Marek, spokesman for TransFair USA, an Oakland, Calif.-based independent, third-party certifier of domestic Fair Trade Certified products. “Honest Tea has drinks containing Fair Trade tea, and there are body products like lotions and lip balm with Fair Trade cocoa butter, honey or tea in them, too.”

PCC Natural Markets carries a number of Fair Trade Certified products, as well as items that include Fair Trade Certified ingredients, throughout its stores.

“Over the past few years, our Fair Trade offerings have grown to include cornstarch, rice, vanilla and sweeteners,” Stephanie Steiner, grocery merchandiser for PCC, told SN. “We're also seeing Fair Trade ingredients used in products like chocolate in ice cream and snack foods.”

The Seattle-based organic retailer and co-op also merchandises Fair Trade health and beauty aids and counts Fair Trade coffee, tea, sugar and bananas among its best sellers. It raises consumer awareness of these products each October by hosting outdoor “Reward of Fair Trade” events at two locations. Samples of Fair Trade foods are offered during the events, and shelf talkers help consumers identify these products in-store.

PCC also connects shoppers with the producers they're helping to benefit.

“This year, we incorporated a collection drive into our ‘Rewards of Fair Trade’ events to collect a variety of school supplies for children in Togo, Africa,” said Steiner.

The supplies were donated to the children of Togo women who are part of an all-female cooperative in the country. The women supply Fair Trade shea butter to Allafia Sustainable Skin Care.

Although retailers are expanding their Fair Trade selections to additional categories, Fair Trade coffee and cocoa remain the most popular.

For the 52 weeks ending Feb. 23, 2008, overall sales of Fair Trade Certified coffee and cocoa, tea, candy and sweeteners grew 19% to $64.8 million, according to SPINS, a San Francisco-based market research and consulting firm for the natural products industry. The majority of items were distributed through conventional food, drug and mass channels, which were responsible for $34.9 million in sales. More than three in four (76%) of the Fair Trade purchases made there were in the coffee and cocoa categories.

During the same period, sales of Fair Trade coffee and cocoa, tea, candy and sweeteners totaled $29.8 million in natural food supermarkets. Sales were more evenly distributed among these categories, since members of the channel tout a more diverse selection, according to Tony Olson, chief executive of SPINS.

Most retailers told SN that their shoppers appreciate the opportunity to be socially responsible.

“Fair Trade foods are only slightly more expensive, so they're still within reach for most shoppers,” said Tim Cummiskey, grocery manager for Highland Park Market's Manchester, Conn., store.

Despite the struggling economy, he's noticed an uptick in the number of shoppers asking about Fair Trade items in recent months.

“They buy Fair Trade products because of the high quality, which is very important to them, but the main reason is a concern for how the producers are treated,” he said.

Highland Park Market carries around a dozen varieties of Fair Trade coffee in all. They include Organic Coffee Company's Zen Blend, Hurricane Espresso and Java Love, as well as Fairwinds products like Coconut Cream, Belgium Lace Chocolate and Costa Rica Tarrazu.

People across the nation are becoming more aware of the concept, according to Marek.

TransFair's data reveals that awareness of Fair Trade was at 7% in 2003 but by the end of 2007 had grown to 27%. “We've only been certifying Fair Trade for 10 years, and awareness is already this high,” he said.

In certain regions, like the Midwest, shoppers still need a bit of prodding.

Such is the case at Fresh Encounter, Findlay, Ohio, said Eric Anderson, co-president.

“It's not that they don't understand or support the concept,” he said. “Our shoppers do talk about Fair Trade, but they aren't motivated to buy yet.”

Fresh Encounter hopes to inspire more purchases by creating its own private-label line of Fair Trade coffee. The retailer recently united with a local coffee company centered exclusively on supplying Fair Trade products.

“The roasting company only uses coffee beans from brokers or producers with Fair Trade Certified coffee beans,” said Anderson. “We're excited to offer this socially responsible product under our own label and believe that our customers will appreciate it too.”

As Fair Trade Certified products continue to pop up in new categories like wine and fresh cut flowers, retailers should ramp up their educational efforts, advises Carmen K. Iezzi, executive director of the Fair Trade Federation, Washington.

“Consumers can now buy Fair Trade sugar, olive oil, rice, nuts, tea, coffee, cocoa, chocolate and bananas,” she said. “People know about some of these, but retailers really need to help educate them about the whole spectrum of products that are currently available” throughout the store.

Iezzi suggests using shelf talkers and literature to draw attention to Fair Trade fare.

“Some of the main talking points should include fair wages paid to farmers and producers, environmental and quality standards that producers must adhere to, and the fact that people around the world are empowered by the capacity to sell their goods,” said Iezzi.

In-store sampling events are also beneficial. Not only do taste tests allow shoppers to experience the unique flavors of some of the products in the category, it opens their eyes to the different foods that are Fair Trade Certified, she said.

Introducing the stories of individual producers to shoppers is also an effective way to drive trial.

“There's nothing like listening to a woman talk about growing up without the money for education, but with the help of Fair Trade profits, that same woman found a way to graduate and go on to become the president of her local co-op,” said Marek.

Sam's Club uses videos that show the farmers and producers, emphasizing the improvements they've experienced as a result of Fair Trade sales, he added.

Presentations like these might also focus on how dollars from Fair Trade sales are pumped back into the communities where items are produced. Often schools are built with the money, health care is made available and clean drinking water is provided so people don't have to spend half of their days walking to far-off wells in order to simply survive, Marek explained.

Whether a product is locally produced, organic, all-natural or Fair Trade, consumers often assume that specialty items will be priced higher than conventional goods. Some Fair Trade foods are more expensive, but not all of them.

“Bananas and mangoes are definitely higher-priced,” said Marek.

But chains can help minimize costs by forging strategic partnerships, said Iezzi.

“Retailers who build direct relationships with producers or a single Fair Trade distributor can cut out some of the middlemen,” she said. “As a result, the added costs normally associated with Fair Trade products are not factored into the overall supply chain costs, and translate to savings for the consumer.”

Chains that find ways to offer affordable Fair Trade foods will do more than boost sales. They will show their shoppers that they understand their desire to be socially responsible, even during a recession, said Mona Doyle, president, Consumer Network, Philadelphia.

“More and more people are looking for the lowest prices possible now that the economy is in such dire straits,” she said. “But, even though they are pinching pennies, they would respond to promotions that enable them to buy high-quality Fair Trade products without breaking the bank.”

Marek concurs. He urges supermarkets to advertise Fair Trade products in weekly circulars. Retailers could even try special promotions, like a “Passport to the World” event that inspires shoppers to buy Fair Trade items imported from different countries. Cashiers could then stamp a Fair Trade Certified passport at the checkout for each product purchased. Filled passports could be redeemed for coupons or free Fair Trade items, he suggested.

27%
of consumers were aware of Fair Trade in 2007,up from 7% in 2003.

Source: TransFair USA