Opportunity knocks for Fairtrade suppliers

By Chris Mercer

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Fairtrade, Fair trade

Fairtrade foods are coming in from the fringe with record growth
and wider selection, says new research from the UK, highlighting
growing advantages for food and drink firms choosing the ethical
path.

Sales of certified Fairtrade products rose 46 per cent in the UK last year to £290m, said figures released by the Fairtrade Foundation to mark the start of Fairtrade Fortnight. Most striking, the Foundation said, was the broadening of Fairtrade's appeal across different sectors. Coffee, tea and bananas still provided the backbone, but other products such as Fairtrade yoghurt and vanilla have helped to expand the movement's reach. Record-breaking growth of Fairtrade food and drink emphasises the advantages suppliers may gain by embracing the system, although the market has not yet fully emerged from its niche beginnings. Pressure from retailers for suppliers to provide Fairtrade options is also growing. Sainsbury's, the UK's third biggest supermarket, this week pledged to grow Fairtrade sales by 145 per cent in 2007 to £130m, with a longer term target of £200m in 2008. Bananas will drive a hefty proportion of the growth after the retailer said it would switch to 100 per cent Fairtrade. But other product lines will also expand. For example, the group plans to sell only Fairtrade hot beverages in its 230 in-store restaurants. It sold 22m drinks last year. Justin King, Sainsbury's chief executive, announced the creation of Fairtrade 'ambassadors', who will be dispatched to Africa to seek out and negotiate deals with producers there. Liz Jarman, one of those chosen for the task, said: "Most of my time will be spent looking at either sourcing more or new Fairtrade food, or working with Fairtrade producers to better understand how we can work together. "​ Larger involvement of big retailers and food firms in Fairtrade, although a little controversial, has been officially welcomed by the Fairtrade Foundation. But Harriet Lamb, its executive director, warned there was still a "long and hard road"​ ahead. "Way too many companies have yet to wake up to the public's changing expectations. We need people to shout even louder, and we need companies to respond with genuine engagement." ​ Fairtrade food and drink still only account for a fraction of total sales in the UK. At Sainsbury's, Fairtrade products made up less than one per cent of its £16.9bn sales for the year ended 25 March 2006. Critics within the fair trade movement are concerned that large firms can get away with nothing more than a bit of Fairtrade posturing. Nestle, for example, sources less than one per cent of its coffee Fairtrade. The War on Want charity attacked a recent deal between McDonald's and the Rainforest Alliance, which works to give farmers sustainable livelihoods, to supply coffee to its UK restaurants. "The fair trade movement was established to challenge the practices of companies like McDonald's, a multinational with a notorious record on key issues such as decent pay and conditions for its workers,"​ Simon McRae, senior campaigns officer for the War on Want charity, told BeverageDaily.com​.

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