Sales of fairtrade products are now worth more than £230m a year, but the convenience sector has been slow to catch on. Amanda Nicholls finds out why
Ethical foods are proving to be more than a flash in the pan. There are now more than 2,000 products carrying the fairtrade mark, and some 70 ethical foods launched last year in the UK alone. According to Mintel, British shoppers will increasingly want to shop with a clear conscience in 2007 - and that can only mean the fairtrade market will extend its staggering 265% growth in the past four years.
The multiples are catching on. Sainsbury's recently announced plans to convert its entire banana range to 100% fairtrade. Waitrose quickly followed suit. Marks & Spencer is furthering its commitment by switching all of its tea and coffee to fairtrade, and Tesco, Waitrose and Asda are increasing their lines.
But are convenience stores taking advantage? A recent survey by fairtrade juice brand Fruit Passion found that shoppers were nearly twice as supportive of fairtrade goods than organic produce, yet while organic sales amount to £1.2bn a year, fairtrade only just exceeds £230m.
Fruit Passion marketing and business development director Rob Spencer says that although sales in the convenience sector are up 90.5% year on year, independent retailers are still failing to respond. "Fairtrade consumers are loyal and will look out for other products when they shop, but we found that either products are not available where they shop, or there's not enough choice," he says.
Spencer believes that for the market to grow, fairtrade ranges need to be stocked on a mainstream fixture. "This has helped the organic market to take off," he says.
The Fairtrade Foundation produces pos material that can be ordered from its website (www.fairtrade.org.uk) and executive director Harriet Lamb recommends grouping products together, using end-of-shelf signage and introducing products with tastings and leaflets during Fairtrade Fortnight (see panel, p32). She says that retailers who want to get involved should ask existing suppliers about their ranges, or use the wholesale distribution section on the Fairtrade Foundation's website.
Manufacturers are also updating their ranges to appeal more. Fairtrade company Traidcraft has rebranded its 100-plus range after 15 years on the market, and drinks company Cafédirect is relaunching its brand and introducing two new blends.
Cafédirect head of marketing Sylvie Barr says: "We have recognised that the convenience store market is a great opportunity and are now tapping into it. For instance, Teadirect is now available in smaller packs of 40 teabags, which is more suitable to c-stores."
Steve Uglow, Musgrave Budgens Londis hot beverages trading manager, has found sales of Cafédirect encouraging. "There is definitely more consumer interest in ethical brands and continually rising sales prove the point," he says. "This year we have seen a 14% like-for-like increase across Cafédirect. We listed three new fairtrade products in the past year and are devoting more and more space within the fixture.
"There is much higher awareness of fairtrade now than five years ago," Uglow adds. "Consumers are increasingly understanding of the concept and supportive of it. They understand that profits filter back to growers and producers and they feel they are making a difference."
Emma Jenkins owns a Costcutter in Milverton, Somerset, with her husband Russell and stocks a wide range of fairtrade products, including tea and coffee from Union Coffee Roasters, Cafédirect, Clipper, Tea-direct and Cocodirect; wines from Los Robles; Traidcraft Geobars; fairtrade basmati rice; Green & Black's Maya Gold chocolate; and Doves Cottage Flapjacks. All of their bagged bananas are organic and fairtrade.
Emma says: "The products that carry the fairtrade mark do very well. We have a group of customers who are sensitive to fairtrade issues and have customers who appreciate the quality - they find that if a product carries the mark it tends to be good quality. Some of our fairtrade products sell as well as standard items."
Retailers can also go one step further by helping their area qualify as a Fairtrade Town. There are currently 200 across the UK - including a Fairtrade Island in Fair Isle, Scotland, which was helped along by Fiona and Robert Mitchell who run Stackhoull Stores - with at least another 240 working towards it. Co-op Group was involved in helping the first fairtrade town - Garstang in Lancashire - gain its status back in 2000. Consumer policy manager Brad Hill says: "There are five goals you need to achieve, including setting up a working group with council and business representation that will drive an agenda for fairtrade locally."
All of Co-op's own-brand coffee and chocolate carries the fairtrade mark and it stocks 140 products in the range. When the Co-op began stocking the first products in 1998 it sold £100,000-worth; by the end of 2004 this had risen to £25m-worth. Last year it was expected to hit £40m, representing a 20-25% share of the entire market in the UK.
However, retailers with limited space may be concerned about the price of fairtrade products compared with standard ranges. Hill says: "There are cynics who think fairtrade is overpriced, but we minimise the impact on the consumer. For instance, the price for conventional coffee was so low that we paid three times as much for fairtrade, but the retail price was only a penny a cup more. We did promotional activity with the message, 'What a difference a penny makes'."
Manufacturers are also absorbing price increases. Fruit Passion's Rob Spencer says it's in everybody's interest to ensure products are competitively priced and Fruit Passion retails only 10% higher than standard ranges. MBL's Uglow agrees: "The only barrier to independent retailers is one of space, but fairtrade offers a great opportunity and customers are definitely prepared to pay a premium for it. No matter how small your store, it's worth having a small number of core products from one of the well-known fairtrade brands. Consumers look for fairtrade and if they can't find it in your store they will vote with their feet and shop elsewhere."
The two weeks between February 26 and March 11, 2007 mark the 11th Fairtrade Fortnight, and Fairtrade Foundation executive director Harriet Lamb says the event is growing bigger each year. "This year's theme is 'Change Today, Choose Fairtrade', to highlight that you can make very little change to your daily lives just by buying into fairtrade to enable big changes to the lives of farmers in the developing world," she says.
Stores can promote the fortnight by running product tastings, setting up a leaflet stand, or involving Fairtrade Town volunteers. The Co-op supports the fortnight with more than 1,000 events run by its members, and encourages purchases by reducing the price of its fairtrade products by 20%. Its fairtrade wine will be advertised on TV and its chocolate in the press.
The Fairtrade Federation produces event packs containing leaflets, posters and bunting, balloons and inflatable bananas to help increase consumer interest.
MBL's hot beverages trading manager Steve Uglow says: "Last year we supported Fairtrade Fortnight with hanging cards, wobblers, header cards and gondola-end displays, plus special offers on our Great Local Deals promotional leaflet. This year we will have a similar in-store campaign with pos and promotional offers and we are looking at store sampling with one of the suppliers."