Are consumers getting a conscience regardless of cost?
We are currently in National Fairtrade Fortnight (presumably because it’s more alliterative than Fairtrade week or month) and the latest figures released by the Fairtrade foundation shows that the Fairtrade retail market is actually showing substantial growth, at a time when other sectors, including grocery shopping overall, are slipping into decline.
The figures show that estimated retail sales of Fairtrade products in 2011 reached £1.32bn, a 12% increase on sales of £1.17bn in 2010. Cocoa and sugar have all seen significant growth at respectively 34% and 21% increase over 2010. Bananas, coffee, tea are all showing steady growth. Crucially for the conscience, this means that Fairtrade Premiums, the extra amount that producers receive for business or social development, increased by over 10% in 2011 compared with 2010.
All good stuff. So why is it that the Fairtrade market is blooming when other markets, including organic ranges are floundering? Are UK consumers just a conscientious lot who will gladly fork out a little bit extra to help support farmers and producers? Er not really.
While most of us would probably say we like to do what little we can, when times are hard, we look after ourselves. Most people faced with two identical packs of bananas will go for the cheaper one, and save the difference to buy something else essential. No, the reason that Fairtrade is growing so exponentially is to do with ethically responsible capitalism.
Oxymoron you may think, but the real reason we are all buying so many Fairtrade products is simply because we don’t have any choice in the matter. Supermarkets and producers are acting as our consciences for us, replacing our normal products with Fairtrade ones.
Take bananas. Both Waitrose and Sainsbury’s now only sell Fairtrade bananas, so you can’t help but buy Fairtrade, and the Co-operative are due to announce that they are joining in too. The Co-op already only sells Fairtrade own-brand tea, coffee and sugar.
Sugar, thanks to Tate & Lyle, is now the biggest single Fairtrade product, the latest figures showing a 42% market share. This week Morrisons will join other major retailers, including the Co-op, M&S, Waitrose, Sainsbury's and Tesco, who have committed to converting all their bagged sugar stocks to Fairtrade sugar from Tate & Lyle.
But don’t worry about your pocket unduly. Tate and Lyle actually went Fairtrade in 2008, and sells its Fairtrade sugar at the same price as those of its major competitor British Sugar. Of course, this is no great hardship for the supermarkets- although Tate & Lyle will naturally have a higher cost of production by including the Fairtrade margin, it seems the retailers are still demanding the same margin, meaning the cost of the Fairtrade is, perhaps unsurprisingly, being born by the refiner company, caught between the producers and the retailer. "We hope we will gain by achieving more market share," Tate & Lyle’s Fairtrade manager Julia Clark told The Guardian. Hopefully, this new deal will do exactly that.
Even sugar as an ingredient is now becoming Fairtrade. Most people will already have heard of pioneering chocolate company Divine Chocolate, but the nation’s favourites of Cadbury Dairy Milk and Kit Kat four-finger already now use Fairtrade sugar (if not yet Fairtrade cocoa beans), with Maltesers also switching later this year.
Harriet Lamb, Executive Director of the Fairtrade Foundation said ‘the commercial reality is that forward-thinking companies are showing leadership in committing to Fairtrade, realising that, as well as it being the right thing to do, they need to invest in smallholders, developing better, longer-term relationships, to ensure the future supply of commodities like cocoa, coffee, sugar, tea, fruit and more.’
So maybe it’s self-interested responsible capitalism. At the end of the day, consumers are buying more Fairtrade and easing their conscience, and not necessarily paying more for the privilege. That’s got to be a good thing, right?