US: Rise in popularity of fair trade produce

Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the power their purchases can have on the regions from which their produce is sourced. It's because of this growing awareness that Fair Trade Certified produce has become popular among a segment of consumers. Though most Americans are not familiar with fair trade produce, many advocates hope that outreach campaigns will inform and motivate consumers about how they can make a difference with the products they buy.

“There are three pillars to fair trade: economic, environmental and social,” explained Alex Coari, business development manager for Fair Trade USA, the largest third-party fair trade certifier in the United States. Fair Trade USA identifies farmers who fairly compensate their workers and teaches disadvantaged communities to use the free market to their advantage. They also work with importers to ensure that farming communities where fair trade produce is grown are fairly compensated for the sales their products generate.

“We're the link between the U.S. and growers in developing countries,” added Coari. While only 34 percent of American consumers are currently aware of fair trade products, Coari noted that that number is rapidly growing.

“Consumer awareness has tripled in the last five years,” she said, and that's especially important because the more people know about fair trade, the more likely they are to embrace the idea.

“There's a growing awareness of sustainability and transparency in the food chain, and I think fair trade is a way to connect consumers to that,” said Lauren Brock, communications specialist for Fair Trade USA. Getting consumers to realize how much power they have, however, can still be a challenge.

“Fair trade is a somewhat complex topic that requires a lot of education,” said Brock. “Consumers are just starting to awaken to the fact that the majority of our food comes from other countries and is oftentimes produced in a way that can leave farmers stuck in a cycle of poverty.” But once they explain to consumers what's going on, most consumers quickly get on board.

“According to research by Cone Communications, 94 percent of consumers are likely to switch brands, assuming price and quality are similar, to one that is associated with a good cause,” said Brock. “That's why our awareness efforts focus on educating shoppers about the power that each of us has as a consumer.” And they've made good progress in both spreading awareness and bringing more growers on board.

“The market for fair trade has expanded so much,” said Coari. “In 2010, we only had four products, and between 2011 and 2012 we've added eight new certified products, so I think retailers and consumers have really started to respond.” That's due, in part, to consumers feeling empowered by the knowledge that what they buy can make a difference.

“The biggest thing we can do, as individuals, is realize how easy it is to make a difference,” said Brock. “To understand that our purchases, no matter how small, really do matter.”

For more information:
Lauren Brock
Fair Trade USA
+1 510 844 1649

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