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Natural Foods Merchandiser
Show your customers the beauty of fair trade personal care

Show your customers the beauty of fair trade personal care

Your customers already put fair trade coffee, tea and chocolate into their shopping carts. Now—thanks to Fair Trade USA’s 2008 launch of a personal care category—their socially responsible purchases don’t have to stop there.

Your customers already put fair trade coffee, tea and chocolate into their shopping carts. Now—thanks to Fair Trade USA’s 2008 launch of a personal care category—their socially responsible purchases don’t have to stop there.

“Since the issue of fair trade shea butter has emerged and [the ingredient] has been picked up by more mainstream lines, I’ve had customers ask which of our shea butters are fair trade,” says Annie Kuebler, body care buyer for Roots Market, a natural products store with two locations in Maryland. “This tells me that certain customers, who perhaps started out buying fair trade chocolates or coffees, have expanded their search to include fair trade–certified personal care items.”

These shoppers will find what they’re looking for at Roots Market. Because the store stocks plenty of fair trade products, including more than 10 personal care lines, sales have taken off, according to Kuebler. In June, about 25 percent of the stores’ 50 top sellers were products that are either fair trade certified or feature a fair trade ingredient.

Retailers across the country are experiencing similar successes with fair trade personal care. During the past year, sales of Fair Trade USA–certified aromatherapy and body oils increased 19 percent, while sales of certified skin care products expanded 32 percent. Oakland, Calif.-based Fair Trade USA is the largest American third-party certifier of fair trade goods. Total sales of body care products carrying any fair trade claim—including Fair Trade USA’s Fair Trade Certified label—jumped 13 percent, from $20 million to $23 million, during the past year, according to Schaumburg, Ill.-based market research firm SPINS.

Two developments have contributed to the growth of fair trade beauty. First, existing fair trade ingredients, such as sugar, tea, coffee and olive oil, have begun to leap from the grocery aisles to the personal care section as manufacturers use them in beauty products. Second, luscious cosmetic ingredients like shea butter and baobab oil are now being certified fair trade, says Maya Spaull, director of new category innovation at Fair Trade USA.

Prior to the creation of the fair trade cosmetics category, shea butter producers—who, according to Spaull, include “some of the most wonderful cooperatives of women throughout Africa”—didn’t have a way to benefit from the fair trade system. “Now we can get these producers involved and really bring them into the fold,” she says.

The appeal of fair trade beauty

Lotion, lip balm, shampoo and other cosmetics are part of Fair Trade USA’s “composite program,” which certifies consumer packaged goods that contain some—though not all—fair trade ingredients. Other products in this program include apparel, foods such as granola bars and ice cream, and soon even gold and platinum. “Consumer packaged goods have been some of our most exciting new categories,” Spaull says. “At the end of the day, even if a manufacturer is buying fair trade shea butter and putting it into a product with other [non-fair trade] ingredients, that is changing a life.”

Products that undergo certification by programs with rigorous criteria, such as Fair Trade USA, will become increasingly valuable to shoppers, Kuebler believes. “Once the issue of fair trade reaches more consumers, I think it will be similar to what happened with organics and biodynamics,” she says. “Customers will hold products to those standards, and certification will most certainly be a selling point.”

Often reflecting their traditional uses, fair trade beauty ingredients lend personal care products a wide range of functional benefits, from moisturizing to exfoliating, while also representing global social and economic advantages. Despite these many perks, these products still have prices comparable to organic personal care, Spaull says. “We tell our partners that by creating products that are for your body and affordable, they are actually going to sell more, which is going to be better for the farmers and for their brands.”

Booming sales of fair trade products at Roots Market—and other retailers across the U.S.—prove Spaull is right. “Oftentimes the companies that are the most mission driven are those that take the time to source fair trade ingredients,” Kuebler says. “Because of the thoughtfulness behind ingredient sourcing and the social and environmental impact, [these companies’ products] are among our best sellers.”

The following ingredients are fair trade standouts in personal care departments throughout natural products stores.

Cocoa Butter and Shea Butter

A recent fair trade introduction, vitamin A– and E–rich shea butter already has made a tremendous social impact on women in Ghana and Burkina Faso, a West African country that is one of the poorest in the world. This is, in part, thanks to the Union of Shea Butter Producers collective, which ensures women get fair prices for producing shea butter.

Cocoa butter producers in Africa and Central and South America have also benefited from fair trade initiatives. Fair Trade USA pricing guarantees farmers earn a sustainable income regardless of market fluctuations. Between 2002 and 2009, nearly $1 million in additional wages have been paid to cocoa farmers through the fair trade system, according to Fair Trade USA. “By providing a decent living wage and rewarding the right to organize, farmers and their families are able to eat more nutritious meals that keep them healthy,” says Mark Patterson, CEO of Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based Eco Lips, maker of One World Lip Balm, which contains 30 percent Fair Trade Certified cocoa butter. “It also results in better schools for their kids, improves housing conditions and builds stronger communities.”

Both cocoa butter and shea butter are touted for their ultramoisturizing properties that give a rich, creamy texture to body and hand lotions.

Stock*: W.S. Badger Co. Cocoa Butter Lip Balm; Eco Lips One World Lip Balm; Bella Organics African Shea Butter; Blends for Life Organics Shea for Men; Alaffia Handcrafted Shea Butter (certified through the Institute for Marketecology’s Fair for Life program)

Carrier Oils

“Carrier oils probably have the greatest impacts on their communities because that’s where the biggest volume is used [in fair trade personal care],” Spaull says. In addition to jojoba, almond, apricot, grapeseed and sesame oils, new fair trade carrier oils—which are used to dilute essential oils—hitting the market include antioxidant-rich baobab, coconut, tamanu, argan, rosehip seed and macadamia, according to Tim Blakley, aromatherapy educator for Aura Cacia, a personal care manufacturer in Urbana, Iowa. And although Middle Eastern conflict has hit the age-old Palestinian olive oil industry hard, this ingredient is experiencing new life thanks to its recent use in fair trade personal care, where it provides replenishing omega-9 fatty acids in soaps and lotions.

Stock:Canaan Olive Oil Soap; Acure Facial Cleansing Creme Olive + Mint; Dr. Bronner’s Organic Fair Trade Shikakai Soap (certified through IMO’s Fair for Life)

Coffee and tea

Coffee has a long and diverse history of sustainability, not only as Fair Trade USA’s flagship food and beverage product, but also as the initial fair trade ingredient to appear in a beauty product. “The first person to put Fair Trade Certified ingredients in personal care was a coffee importer who had coffee grounds and decided, ‘I’m going to make a Fair Trade Certified body scrub,’” Spaull says. Coffee and tea, both rich in free radical–fighting antioxidants, remain key ingredients in body scrubs and other personal care products such as lotions, lip balms and facial washes.

Stock:Planet Botanicals Fair Trade Certified Ethiopian Coffee Body Scrub with Peppermint and Chamomile; Acure Organics Mandarin Orange + Mango Lotion

Honey and sugar

Honey, found in everything from soaps and lotions to facial washes, offers a wide range of aesthetic and health benefits. Its antimicrobial properties help fight skin irritation, and its moisturizing properties enhance both skin and hair products. Fair trade honey hails from South and Central America, with Mexico leading the way in organic honey production.

Another sweet beauty ingredient is fair trade sugar, sourced from South and Central America, the Philippines and Africa. In personal care products, sugar helps remove dead skin cells and promote circulation. Exfoliants using this ingredient often incorporate other fair trade products, such as plant oils or extracts, for their fragrances or skin-soothing properties.

Stock: Aura Cacia Lavender Nourishing Body Polish; Dirty Beauty Cocoa Cane Sugar Preserve Body Scrub

Herbs and spices

Globally sourced herbs and spices serve a variety of beauty functions, including acting as preservatives, offering natural fragrance, fighting bacteria and promoting circulation. Vanilla, ginger, turmeric and peppermint are leading the way, with vanilla generating $121,616 in premium dollars—money that is designated for social and economic development in the communities that produce the ingredients—last year.

Next on the horizon, according to Fair Trade USA: fruit and flower extracts, which provide skin with nourishing, restorative nutrients, plus give cosmetics natural fragrance and color. “We are now seeing if we can help producers of fruits and flowers make essential oils, which is an added value,” Spaull says. Fruits to keep on your radar include mango, orange and blueberry. Additionally, you can expect new options in the essential oil category, Blakley says, including lemon myrtle, blue cypress, manuka and valerian.

Stock: Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Liquid Soap (certified through IMO’s
Fair for Life

*All products certified by Fair Trade USA except where noted.

Jessica Rubino is senior associate editor of  Delicious Livingmagazine.

5 merchandising tips for fair trade personal care

Here’s how to showcase fair trade personal care products at your store.

1. Label fair trade items with signs that clip into shelf strips.

2. Create an endcap of major fair trade players. Use photos to highlight the people who benefit from fair trade practices.

3. Provide educational brochures in personal care aisles that list the social, political and economic impacts of fair trade purchases.

4. Set up a bin for donations, such as sunglasses or school supplies, for the communities that produce fair trade ingredients.

5. Hold a fair trade celebration—the second Saturday in May is World Fair Trade Day—featuring food, music and activities from participating communities, as well as discounts on fair trade beauty products.              

–Pamela Bond

Fair trade by the numbers

9,500: Number of Fair Trade Certified consumer products available in the U.S.

60,000: Number of U.S. retail locations that carry Fair Trade Certified items

109 million: Pounds of coffee certified by Fair Trade USA in 2010

62 percent: Percentage of Fair Trade Certified coffee that's also certified organic

$220 million: Additional income paid to farming families since 1998 as a result of fair trade

67 percent: Growth of fair trade cocoa imports in 2010

8 million: Pounds of organic fair trade pineapples sold in 2010

92: Number of new producer groups that joined Fair Trade USA in 2010 (representing an additional 140,000 farmers)

Source: Fair Trade USA 

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