Fairtrade sales hit £100m a year

Posted: 10 March 2004

Author: John Vidal

She's no activist but Beth Jones of Ruabon in north Wales voted with her shopping basket against the global trading system yesterday.

Mrs Jones, a mother of three who earns just over the minimum wage in a Wrexham factory, happily paid a fair trade premium at the Co-op of about 20p for six bananas and 40p for a jar of coffee.

Fairtrade products. Photo: The Fairtrade Foundation, 2003
Fairtrade products. Photo: The Fairtrade Foundation, 2003
A selection of Fairtrade products.© The Fairtrade Foundation, 2003

"It's not that much is it?" she said. "But it's not right that people in poor countries should get so little, so this is my family's way of helping."

Fairly traded food, for which a small premium and a guaranteed price is paid directly to farmers in developing countries, has become Britain's favourite way to help people.

New awareness

On Monday it will be confirmed that fair trade food has reached the mainstream, with annual sales running at £100m after 40-90 per cent growth a year for a decade. It has expanded from one brand of coffee to 130 foods, including fruit, juices, vegetables, snacks, wine, tea, sugar, honey and nuts.

UK sales of Fairtrade products 1999-2003
UK sales of Fairtrade products 1999-2003
Click on thumbnail for larger version.

"It is a grassroots phenomenon," says Harriet Lamb, director of the Fairtrade foundation, which was set up by five British development charities in 1994 with a small grant.

"It has developed out of new awareness that the world price of most foods is less than it was 20 years ago and that unfair trade has left hundreds of millions struggling to survive."

The Co-op, the first major store to take ethically traded food seriously after consulting shoppers in 1995, said that one in four of its bananas and chocolate bars was now fairly traded and that it expected annual sales to reach £21m next year as it expands its ranges.

A spokeswoman said:"We introduced fair trade organic grapes and sold 300,000 punnets in 18 days."

Rocketing sales

Ethical trading companies say that the growth proves that it is possible to make profit while helping people.

Cafe Direct, one of the pioneers of the movement, is now Britain's sixth biggest coffee company and will next month launch a share issue.

But its greatest strength may be the strong backing it gets from social movements. The churches and charities who launched the organisation have been joined by universities, schools, the scout and guide movement, the Salvation Army, youth hostels and unions, who are all promoting it strongly in workplaces.

More than 6,000 grassroots promotion events will take place over the next two weeks. Garstang in Lancashire claims to be the world's first fair trade town, with 90 of its 100 businesses, including its schools, churches, garages and hairdressers selling the products.

Britain is now the second largest market after Switzerland. Sales are rocketing in the US and Europe's market grew 30 per cent last year to almost £400m.

John Vidal is the environment editor for The Guardian.

logoReproduced with kind permission by Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004 . This article was first published in The Guardian, (Saturday February 28, 2004). All rights reserved.

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