Co-op seeks even fairer trade

Related tags Fairtrade Fair trade

The next two weeks have been designated Fairtrade Fortnight in the
UK, and retailers across the country will be promoting their ranges
of ethical products in a bid to increase consumer awareness.

The Co-op is already the leading retail supporter of the Fairtrade movement, with a wide range of its own label products, including all its chocolate and coffee, already sold under the Fairtrade Mark, and it has used Fairtrade Fortnight to announce a major expansion of its ethical product range.

In fact, the Co-op is pledging to double the size of its own brand range of Fairtrade products by the end of the year - coincidentally the 10th anniversary of the Fairtrade Mark.

Fairtrade products - which include coffee, chocolate, fruit, sugar and even manufactured food products - guarantee that producers are paid a fair price for their goods. In the case of coffee, for example, this is around three times the current market price for robusta beans and double the price for arabica.

The Co-op claims to sell more Fairtrade products than any other retailer, with a current range of 62 products, including nine new own labels launched today. The group plans to add a further 22 by the end of 2004, bringing its total Fairtrade sales up to £21 million and returning £1.25 million each year in Fairtrade premium to growers in developing countries.

One of the nine new products launched this week is the UK's first Fairtrade sugar, which Co-op claims will support 300 African sugar cane growers who are unable to obtain a fair price for their crop because of "the complex and restrictive sugar regime of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the high tariffs that are normally applied under the EU system"​.

The chain said it would also use the Fairtrade sugar and other ingredients in an increasing range of processed food products, such as the Fairtrade Choc Chip Shortbread launched this week. Among the other products introduced this week are Fairtrade Easter eggs, plums, pears and organic oranges.

David Croft, head of Co-op brand and technical, said that the move was part of Co-op's strategy to make Fairtrade mainstream "with the goal of ensuring that all Co-op products from developing countries will be fairly traded"​.

"This isn't just about importing Fairtrade commodities, it's about looking for new ways of using Fairtrade ingredients in standard supermarket lines,"​ he said.

Croft said that the chain was also putting its weight behind Fairtrade Fortnight, with promotions in all 3,000 stores nationwide. He said that the company would cut 20 per cent off its own label and branded Fairtrade products to encourage shoppers to switch to Fairtrade during the promotional period, as well as carrying out a major sampling programme of Fairtrade food at 12 mainline railway stations across Britain, as well in its stores.

There will also be a major TV and press advertising campaign, promoting the concept of Fairtrade and encouraging customers to switch to ethical products, he added.

"We're mounting our biggest ever promotion for Fairtrade Fortnight, on the back of increasing customer demand and expectations. Fairtrade has already proved very popular with our customers, who know that by buying it they are helping growers and producers in developing countries."

Helped in no small part by the commitment of the Co-op to stocking Fairtrade products, British shoppers are becoming increasingly ethical when it comes to choosing what they eat. The latest edition of the Co-operative Bank's Ethical Purchasing Index (EPI), published late last year, showed that ethical food and drink sales in the UK reached £1.77 billion in 2002, with Fairtrade accounting for £59.5 million of this total.

Some Fairtrade products in particular have been particularly successful, with tea and coffee purchases rising from £24.5 million in 2001 to £30.3 million in 2002. Fairtrade ground coffee now has more than 14 per cent of the UK ground coffee market.

But the Co-op's commitment to Fairtrade and ethical products in general is still relatively rare in the international retail sector, at least according to a recent report​from aid agency Oxfam, which accused the likes of Tesco and Wal-Mart of exploiting workers in the developing world to boost their own margins.

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