Ben Speed, account manager for retail at the Fairtrade Foundation, is talking in a language that anyone in business will understand.
Ethics aside for a moment, the annual Fairtrade Fortnight event, organised by the Foundation, is a burgeoning sales opportunity for the wholesaler and foodservice supplier, he says.
“Nielsen figures show Fairtrade sales were up 7% last year. Wholesalers are a step back from the customers, but they can say to symbol groups and foodservice businesses that if they encourage Fairtrade during Fairtrade Fortnight then they will see spikes in sales.”
There are now 440 Fairtrade towns and 70,000 registered Fairtrade campaigners in the UK. That gives an idea of the scale of consumer demand which wholesalers can tap into, says Speed. “The key for wholesale is that Fairtrade Fortnight is an opportunity to start communicating with Fairtrade fans.”
The next annual Fairtrade Fortnight is scheduled for February 22-March 7 2010. So what can we expect from wholesalers and suppliers, and do consumers ‘get’ the Fairtrade message, even in the economic downturn?
Fairtrade Fortnight 2010 will be themed around ‘The Big Swap’, encouraging consumers to swap standard purchases for their Fairtrade equivalent. Fairtrade Tea will be in the spotlight this year, it was bananas in 2009.
And the Foundation is planning to put Flash Mobs where a large group of people gather in a public place and perform an unusual action for a brief period of time into the marketing mix this time round. ‘Flask Mobs’ will be staging impromptu tea drinking events around the country during the Fortnight.
Kathryn Fell, product brand manager at 3663, is not yet letting on whether the foodservice wholesaler will be holding Flask Mob parties.
But she says the company is very proactive in promoting Fairtrade Fortnight, not only to customers but also to staff.
It is working with the Fairtrade Foundation to produce an information pack, which will be given to the sales team in the new year, to give them the confidence to sell the Fairtrade products. 3663 currently lists 38 Fairtrade items, which perform well, from fruit juice to coffee.
She comments: “We have supported the Fairtrade initiative right from the start. To help our customers locate products and to build their awareness of the number of Fairtrade items we stock, we dual list Fairtrade products in the category and ethical sections of our buying brochure.”
There is still one key hurdle for foodservice operators to face, she says. Caterers may use a Fairtrade item, but there is the risk that the message will get lost unless they mention it on their menu.
She comments: “Operators should always highlight dishes which use Fairtrade products through menus, table talkers, posters and brief staff to promote these dishes during Fairtrade Fortnight.”
Andrew Macintosh, spokesman for Yorkshire-based ethical wholesaler Suma, comments: “Consumers get the idea of the Fairtrade marque because the message is less muddled than the principles of organic produce, but there is still a gap in understanding as to what constitutes a developing nation and what commodities are produced domestically in those countries.”
He is personally persuaded that Fairtrade helps create a more equitable supply chain: “I’ve spoken to school kids about bonded labour and they understand the message when we tell them that a good deal of the chocolate they eat is harvested and produced by children who are aged eight, nine and 10. These children make up 30% of the cocoa plantation workforce in west Africa, so kids begin to see that chocolate bars at less than 50p is simply wrong.”
FEELING THE FAIRTRADE FOCUS
On the supplier side, Martin Lines, marketing director of Nestl eacute; Professional, says Fairtrade Fortnight gives a focus to the manufacturer to create awareness and impact.
Sales of Nescaf eacute; Partners’ Blend coffee are up 100% over the last 12 months. “That’s partly due to our promotional activity but also to increased demand,” says Lines.
For Nestl eacute;, Fairtrade is about ensuring that customers’ choice is there. Nestl eacute; also works with the rival Rainforest Alliance forestry conservation scheme, which focuses on preventing deforestation rather than subsidising prices.
Lines comments: “Fairtrade is a small part of the portfolio. We could not make all our Nescaf eacute; Fairtrade, there simply would not be enough supply. End to end sustainability is what matters to us across the board. Consumers and customers must make their own choices, and we need the brands to reflect those choices.”
But as awareness of sustainability issues continues to increase among consumers, Nestl eacute; plans more promotional activity for Partners Blend during Fairtrade Fortnight 2010.
Lines adds: “We plan to drive on in 2010 through the wholesale, cash and carry and retail sectors as well as through office supplies companies such as Spicers and Office Depot.”
Meanwhile, Jon Marlow, head of sales at Caf eacute;direct, reports that Fairtrade hot beverages are growing ahead of the market in both value and volume at 8.3% and 9.7% respectively (MAT, w/e 11/7/09), while non-Fairtrade is up 5.3% in value but down 3% in volume.
But despite Fairtrade hot beverage sales putting in a consistently strong performance, the wholesale and convenience sectors are slow to respond to this growing potential, falling well behind the grocery multiples, he argues.
“Fairtrade is still a little hit and miss with some wholesalers not featuring Fairtrade at all within their fixtures. We would like to see these sectors work harder on their ethical offering and partner with strong, well known brands such as Caf eacute;direct.”
And the current economic environment should not put them off: “Now, more than ever, shoppers are looking for brands they can trust.
“With consumers feeling very let down by the banks and the government we believe Fairtrade brand values such as ‘traceability’, ‘provenance’ and ‘direct relationships with growers’ have never been more relevant.”
Wine supplier Ehrmanns says it is very
pro-active in working with wholesalers during Fairtrade Fortnight, working with the Fairtrade Foundation but also organising its own Fairtrade wine events, including Fairtrade wine tastings throughout the country.
In 2010, Ehrmanns is planning a competition with Nisa Today’s for shop managers to win a weekend in an eco hotel.
And it is creating some branded Fairtrade wines window stickers for independents to promote Fairtrade wines in the convenience sector.
There will also be other competitions with some of its biggest Fairtrade customers independents and wholesalers. The prizes will be Fairtrade hampers containing Fairtrade products such as Burnt Sugar, CrazyJack, Liberation Nuts and Visionary Soap.
Elsewhere in the wine world, the Stellar Organics range from South Africa is doing very well in the wholesale sector, with Fairtrade wine sales in growth, according to Marianne Fillion, new product development manager.
She says wholesalers need to understand the Fairtrade message to get it out to customers: “It would be great if the wholesaler and retailer could explain the basics of Fairtrade to their customers. It would be especially good for operators to understand and explain how the premium is spent to have information to hand from wine producers case studies of actual people who will benefit from the sale of the wines. These will be available from importers such as Ehrmanns.”
The latest big supplier to back Fairtrade as an ethical and commercial argument is Cadbury. It moved to Fairtrade certification for Cadbury Dairy Milk and Cadbury Hot Chocolate in July, following its purchase of organic and Fairtrade brand Green amp; Black’s in 2005.
As Todd Stitzer, chief executive of Cadbury, explains: “We came to Fairtrade because of the value it can bring to our supply chain and because of our values. Quality cocoa for us, and a better quality of life for thousands of farmers, empowered through Fairtrade to reinvest in their own farms and communities.”