Natural Foods Merchandiser
U.S. fair trade market expands and explodes in 2010

U.S. fair trade market expands and explodes in 2010

Fair Trade USA certified a record number of imported consumer goods in 2010. Sales of these products also increased, reflecting growing consumer awareness of the fair trade mission.

The number of fair trade-certified consumer goods available in the U.S. skyrocketed to 9,500 in 2010, according to third-party certifying agency Fair Trade USA’s annual report, released last week. The 2010 Almanac revealed that perennial top categories like coffee, cocoa, citrus and sugar significantly expanded their offerings, while new categories and product types debuted, namely apparel, vodka made from Bolivian quinoa, Mexican-grown green peppers, and particular herbs, nuts, oils, extracts and spices.

“Fair Trade works to empower agricultural communities with international trade opportunities,” said Stacy Wagner, Fair Trade USA’s director of marketing and public relations. Money generated from purchased goes toward improving farm infrastructure and building and recuperating roads, schools, and other resources within farming communities.

According to the 2010 Almanac, Fair Trade USA certified over 100 million pounds of coffee—62 percent of which was also certified organic—that paid out $44 million in premium funds to farmers. Citrus imports swelled by 96 percent, cocoa (88 percent also certified organic) grew by 67 percent, and sugar rose by 60 percent (89 percent also certified organic).

More products, more sales

But did a greater selection of fair trade-certified products equate to greater sales? “The increase in imports is a clear indication of increased sales, because fair trade is a market-based solution," Wagner said. “Without buyers, there is no fair trade.”

Indeed, the numbers tell the story. According to Schaumburg, Ill.-based market research firm SPINS, sales of fair trade-certified products rose 15.2 percent in the natural channel and 17 percent in conventional stores in 2010. The highest grossing categories in natural products stores were teas; coffee, coffee substitutes and cocoa; soap and bath preparations; candy and individual snacks; and ready-to-drink tea and coffees. And in terms of growth percentage in 2010, almost every fair trade-certified product category SPINS tracks netted sales spikes in both channels. In natural, the biggest gainers included nut and seed butters (425 percent), miscellaneous supplements (192 percent), beans, grains and rice (74 percent), and energy bars and gels (57 percent).

Retailer and consumer awareness

Along with the increase in available products, mounting consumer awareness of fair trade issues and recognition of the seal played a huge role in boosting sales. In the past five years alone, awareness has quadrupled, the Almanac reported, yet ample room for growth remains. “Awareness of fair trade is only about 34 percent right now,” Fair Trade USA Spokeswoman Katie Barrow told Natural Foods Merchandiser magazine. “But once consumers know about it, eight in 10 say they’ll purchase [fair trade goods]. That’s a huge conversion rate.” 

Since fair trade-certified finished goods sometimes cost more for retailers to stock and consumers to purchase, education is key. “We like to tell consumers that every purchase matters, and their everyday items like coffee, chocolate and lip balm can add up to major global change,” Wagner said. “It's important for retailers to add these messages to their packaging and marketing campaigns.”

Fair trade's future

The fair trade boom shows no signs of slowing. “We're constantly raising philanthropic contributions to support expansion,” Wagner said. “We're excited about our wine program and about nuts and exotic oils.” Fair Trade USA expects the wine category to take off, especially after Wine Spectator magazine awarded two fair trade-certified wines 90+ scores.

More fair trade-certified personal care ingredients are also becoming available. While it’s tough to make finished cosmetics, body care and hair care products completely fair trade, formulators can find certified ingredients like shea butter, cocoa butter and vanilla extracts to showcase in their products.

Read more about fair trade’s recent explosion, along with other key business and sales trends, in Natural Foods Merchandiser’s annual Market Overview issue, coming in June.  

Fair trade by the numbers

9,500 – Number of fair trade-certified consumer goods available in the U.S.

60,000 – Number of U.S. retail locations that carry fair trade-certified items

109 million – Pounds of coffee Fair Trade USA certified in 2010

62 – 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 – Percentage growth of fair trade cocoa in 2010

8 million – Pounds of organic fair trade pineapples reintroduced to market in 2010

92 – Number of new producer groups to join Fair Trade USA in 2010

Source: Fair Trade USA

Read more about fair trade’s recent explosion, along with other key business and sales trends, in Natural Foods Merchandiser’s annual Market Overview issue, coming in June.    

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