With fair trade coffee a success—growers ask, who's next?

November 16, 2004, as reported by just-food.com: Fair trade, a movement that originated around the simple idea of paying producers a fair, livable wage for their goods, has proven to be a popular concept. With the fair-trade coffee niche gaining popularity producers of various products around the world are hoping theirs will be the next darling of the movement.

According to the Naples, NY-based ProductScan Online database of new products, 69 new fair trade products, including many new fair trade coffees, have been introduced over the past two years in the US and Canada. That's up significantly from 15 products in 2002 and just 6 in 2001. Indeed, fair trade, with its emphasis on a fair price for agricultural products, is making waves on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. In the UK, the charity Oxfam recently opened Britain's first fair trade coffee shop, Progreso Café. It not only sells hot fair trade coffees, but also fair trade cakes and biscuits.

Fair trade: a fair price for farmers

According to trade reports, the roughly US$100m fair trade coffee market is the fastest-growing sector of the coffee industry. Though this niche makes up a very small portion of a market that counts over $19bn in sales in the United States alone, fair trade coffee is beginning to attract attention. TransFair USA estimates that 30 million pounds of fair trade coffee will be imported into the US this year, nearly double the 18.7 million pounds that hit US shores in 2003.

The modern fair trade movement got its start in Europe where a Dutch company began marketing fair trade coffee as early as the late-1980s. The movement has gathered momentum since then, spurred on by a disastrous price decline in coffee (prices are down 70% since the late 1990s). This drop is blamed on the overproduction of low-end coffee beans from countries like Vietnam and Brazil.

A sign of how far the fair trade movement has come was Procter & Gamble's late-2003 introduction of Millstone Mountain Moonlight Fair Trade Certified Coffee. On the foodservice front, Dunkin' Donuts added a new line of espresso beverages made exclusively with Fair Trade certified coffee beans that same year.

Fair trade moves into confectionery, hot chocolate

Though many Americans are still unfamiliar with the fair trade concept, that could change as a new wave of fair trade products based on fair trade fruits, sugar and chocolate begins to hit store shelves.

Among the newcomers are Equal Exchange Organic Chocolates, from West Bridgewater, MA-based Equal Exchange, which are made with Fair Trade Certified cocoa and sugar from small farmer cooperatives, and Better World Hot Cocoa from Waterbury, VT-based Green Mountain Coffee Roasters.

Fair trade has also moved into teas where Bethesda, MD-based Honest Tea introduced Peach-Oo-La-Long Tea, a product Honest Tea says was the most successful ready-to-drink tea introduction in the natural channel in 2003. The beverage is made from Fair Trade certified oolong tea with black tea and organic peach puree.

In the UK, the charity Oxfam has opened Britain's first fair trade coffee shop – The Progreso Café in Covent Garden, central London. The café is a product of collaboration between Oxfam and coffee cooperatives in Ethiopia, Honduras and Indonesia.

"If the fair trade cafe concept flies with consumers who will be exposed to a broadening array of fair trade foods, look for other packaged food and beverage categories to jump on the fair trade bandwagon," said Tom Vierhile, executive editor of Productscan Online.

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