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3 tips to help consumers understand Fair Trade

Many shoppers are still confused by the benefits of Fair Trade, especially as other certifications continue to crowd the market. Here are three ways to dispel common myths and start conversations with curious customers.

Fair Trade USA, in partnership with the Sustainable Coffee Challenge, recently announced a group of commitments by retailers and foodservice providers to offer fair trade coffee where consumers shop and dine.

Target Corporation, for example, has committed 100% of its Archer Farms coffee to be certified sustainable by 2022 according to the Fair Trade USA standard or equivalent. Chartwells Higher Ed has committed to serving Fair Trade coffee at all 280 universities it serves. And Bon Appetit Management Company, which provides onsite restaurant services for universities, businesses and museums in 34 states, committed to sourcing all of its coffee from either Fair Trade producers or its network of small, owner-operated roasters.

The challenge? Many consumers still don’t understand the benefits of Fair Trade, especially as other certifications crowd the market. But if you ask Mel Bandler, retail partnership specialist at Fair Trade USA, independent retailers have a huge role to play. Here’s how:

1. Dispel myths 

According to Bandler, lots of consumers still think Fair Trade is just a certification for coffee, that premium money doesn't make it to the producers themselves and that the products can be too expensive. Retailers can combat these myths by showcasing the variety of Fair Trade products available as well as the farmer stories behind them in order to demonstrate the value that goes back to communities.

2. Tell stories

It’s more than label-deep. “Ask brands to share their connections to their supply chains, and consider how this might fit into your company goals as a retailer,” Bandler says. “If you’re passionate about education, maybe find a supplier that’s able to share how a Fair Trade committee voted to enhance school supply access.” Then, share photos in-store and online (social media is a great option), to give shoppers a deeper picture of how Fair Trade is working to improve the lives of producers. Or, access the low cost and free materials from Fair Trade USA–from window clings to produce stickers–to get the conversation started.

3. Differentiate

Direct trade, in which coffee brands buy directly from growers, is hailed as being an ethical option that can cut out middlemen. And while it does share a goal with Fair Trade–to improve trade practices and enhance the lives of producers–there are some differences in addition to areas where education can help clear up confusion. “Fair Trade includes a community development fund,” Bandler explains. “For every pound of coffee or banana sold, for example, farmers earn an additional premium that’s put into a fund. The community then democratically votes on what to invest in, based on what’s most important to their unique needs.” If you ask Bandler, this is where Fair Trade can have an edge over direct trade, in that it’s impacting whole communities rather than one family or one grower.

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