AUSTIN, Texas -- Fair Trade coffee is emerging as a point of differentiation for food retailers here, led by Albertsons and Wild Oats' Sun Harvest Farms.
Coffee manufacturers, traders and producers have begun work on a code of conduct to cover issues such as living standards for farmers and the protection of the environment, and there is a Fair Trade certification and logo that guarantees that farmers are paid a fair price.
Whole Foods Markets, based here, carries only the Allegro brand of organic coffee, which it has owned since 1997. Although this coffee is not certified as Fair Trade, Whole Foods stores throughout the country promote the chain's new High Five for Farmers program, which gives 5% of the sales from select coffees directly to the farms where they are produced. The farms, in turn, use the dollars to help support and complete much-needed projects. Every two months, Whole Foods Markets features a new coffee and project of focus.
"Fair Trade ensures a certain price per pound," said Cyd Crouse, associate specialty team leader. "Allegro has chosen not to do that, because they pay 5 to 21 cents per pound above that price," she told SN during a store visit in May. She said 5% to 10% of Whole Foods' shoppers have questions about coffee, to be sure the chain is treating its coffee partners fairly, but once she explains the High Five program to them, they are satisfied, she said.
At H.E. Butt Grocery Co., or its two Central Markets here, which has nearly 60% of the local market, no Fair Trade coffee was spotted. The South Lamar store, the newer of the two Central Markets here, had 30 big bins of bean coffee and 16 smaller ones, filled with decaffeinated varieties, and four more barrel-style bins. Late on a Saturday afternoon, the coffee department was showing the wear and tear of a busy day. It was hard to find a knowledgeable associate. One employee whom SN encountered (who was carrying a feather duster) said she had just started and made it clear that she was a not a "coffee person." She did point out the Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, selling for $39.99 a pound, but she said she'd never heard of Fair Trade coffee.
Even at Albertsons, though The Organic Coffee Co., Santa Cruz, Calif., has set up wooden kiosks of its Fair Trade-certified coffees, there is no special signage calling attention to that, nor was any Fair Trade seal visible on the packages SN examined in the Oak Hill store.
Among the heightened attention given lately to Fair Trade coffee, the doughnut and coffee retail chain Dunkin' Donuts, East Brunswick, N.J., is to launch a new line of espressos which will use Fair Trade coffee. The espresso-based beverages, which will include espressos, lattes and cappuccinos, are to be launched in 800 outlets in the Boston and Providence, R.I., areas by September, with expansion to the New York metropolitan area planned for January.
Dunkin' Donuts' plan to use only Fair Trade coffee in its espresso line means it will become one of the top buyers of Fair Trade beans, along with Equal Exchange, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, of Waterbury, Vt., and Starbucks.
"We are projecting our purchases of Fair Trade coffee to equal about 2% of our buying," said Rob Stephens, manager of coffee product development, in an interview with Reuters.