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Fair Trade products proliferating

 Posted by on October 1, 2008
Oct 012008
 

By Catherine Colbert

Organic products are much easier to come by these days. Items with the Fair Trade Certified label also are  expanding and taking up more precious real estate on store shelves.

So far this year, more than twice as many Fair Trade Certified products have been introduced in the U.S. compared to last year. Some 284 products with the Fair Trade Certified designation have been launched compared to 130 in 2007, and as few as 17 in 2003, according to a September report by Mintel, Chicago – a market researcher focused on consumer behavior and product innovation.

The Fair Trade food items include a virtual gift basket of treats: a variety of teas, cocoa, fruits, flowers and chocolates.

TransFair USA, headquartered in Oakland, California, is the governing entity in the U.S. behind products deemed Fair Trade Certified. The nonprofit is one of 20 member organizations worldwide that comprises the Fairtrade Labelling Organizations (FLO) International. TransFair audits agreements between U.S. companies and international suppliers to guarantee that farmers in developing countries around the world use environmentally friendly practices and are paid a fair price for their goods. Farmers in Costa Rica and Ghana have reinvested profits in their communities to build schools, develop improved sustainability practices, and establish health clinics.

Since its founding in 1998, TransFair USA has certified more than 74 million pounds of Fair Trade coffee, which in turn has given coffee farmers in Latin America and Africa more than $60 million more than if they had sold their coffee locally, according to the organization.

Most U.S. consumers were introduced to the concept of Fair Trade Certified products with the help of coffee marketers.  Fair Trade, which asks consumers to buy products at a “fair price” to be socially responsible, initially seemed like a niche market. But it has gone mainstream. From 2001 to 2006, retail sales of coffee grew tenfold to $730 million, cites TransFair USA, in a recent Brandweek article. When worldwide retailer Wal-Mart joined the fold, Fair Trade Certified coffee sales really began to percolate.

Fair Trade products were available only at specialty retailers, such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, as well as online, when they were introduced to the U.S. In recent years, however, Fair Trade products have moved onto store shelves in big-box discounters Costco and Target, and mainline grocery stores like Kroger. See the Transfair website for where to buy products.

After more than a decade in existence, TransFair USA now certifies tea, cocoa, sugar, fruit, rice, and flowers. With the organization’s fifth annual Fair Trade Month, held in October 2008, it’s counting wine among the products it recognizes and certifies. Certified chocolate bars are available in many grocery stores, as well. Look for Green and Black’s chocolate made in the Dominican Republic and Belize, El Rey from Venezuela, and Valhrhona from Trinidad.

For consumers who are taking copious notes on the growth of Fair Trade, there are businesses like Divine Chocolate, based in the United Kingdom, that are entirely farmer-owned.

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