Fairtrade America: 'We need to get more brands on board to drive impact'

By Kacey Culliney

- Last updated on GMT

Image courtesy of Fairtrade America
Image courtesy of Fairtrade America
Sales of Fairtrade certified goods are on the rise, with coffee, cocoa, bananas and avocados particularly strong, but more brands need to invest to create true impact in the market, says the COO of Fairtrade America.

Sales of Fairtrade goods are on the rise, with coffee, cocoa, bananas and avocados particularly strong, but more brands need to invest to create true impact in the market, says the COO of Fairtrade America.

In 2017, the US generated Fairtrade sales of more than $1bn through an array of products​, including bananas, cocoa, sugar and wine, among others - making it the third-largest market for certified goods in the world. Globally, Fairtrade sales rose 8% to $9.2bn.

Coffee, cocoa, bananas and avocados

Bryan Lew, chief operating officer of Fairtrade America, said there was a convergence of interests driving the Fairtrade category in the US.

“Consumers are seeking brands and products that reflect their values. Companies are realizing that sustainability in their supply chain is as important as the quality of ingredients they source. And finally, the cost of sourcing certified ingredients isn't significantly higher and makes brands more attractive to conscious consumers and retailers,”​ Lew told FoodNavigator-USA.

In volume terms, he said sales of Fairtrade coffee, cocoa, bananas and avocados had seen “the biggest jump” ​in the US.

“Coffee is where Fairtrade began over 30 years ago, when farmers in Mexico banded together to bring their coffee direct to market in the Netherlands, and the concept spread from there. So, it makes sense that coffee continues to grow. But, as people come to understand what Fairtrade means, they begin to look at where other goods originate - the growth in chocolate is a great example.”

More brands on board – cocoa and sugar key

However, Lew said even with all the growth Fairtrade had seen in recent years, certified products remained a small percentage of the global market.

Last year, Fairtrade Premiums were up 7.4% at nearly $7m – money farmers and workers received for produce sold on Fairtrade terms that equalled more than their business, community and environmental investments – but Fairtrade producer organizations only sold about 34% of their production on these terms.

“Fairtrade's impact is closely tied to the amount that farmers sell on Fairtrade terms. So, of course, we want to see that grow. ...Farmers and workers are doing their homework to produce more sustainably, now we need to get more brands on board to drive impact,” ​Lew said.

With Fairtrade standards covering more than 300 raw products, he said growth potential was significant but, if he had to pick - “cocoa and sugar are places where companies could have the greatest impact."

Fairtrade International research conducted last year in the Ivory Coast found income levels among cocoa farmers “continued to hover close to poverty levels,”​ and Lew said policy changes in the European Union stopping enforced sugar quotas and payments equal to EU-produced sugar beet had created a “big, negative impact”​ on smallholder sugar producers around the world.

Image courtesy of Fairtrade America
Image courtesy of Fairtrade America

Investing in the future

Lew said sourcing from Fairtrade farmers and workers was about much more than consumer demand or recognition, it was an “investment in the future”​ for any supply chain, particularly given global trends.

“The average age of coffee farmers across Africa is 60, a trend that's reflected among many products. Young people don't see a future in farming. Climate change is making weather patterns unpredictable. Volatile commodity prices continue to make farming a risky venture. We see small farmers for what they really are – entrepreneurs. When you invest in them and their organizations, you'll see an improvement in the business and the community.”

He said Fairtrade America was currently adapting its model to better align with mainstream businesses and brands to help make certified products “more accessible to the average consumer”. ​Ben & Jerry's was one strong example of mainstream success, he said – sourcing Fairtrade for 100% of their products.

Fairtrade America​ is an independent non-profit 501(c)3 organization, associated with the Fairtrade International certification system. Fairtrade America licenses the use of the FAIRTRADE Mark, indicating a product meets internationally agreed Fairtrade Standards​, including requirements around environmental measures and labor conditions.

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