Fair-trade food rockets in popularity
Monday October 23, 2006
By Derek Cheng

Fair-trade cotton, sugar and products such as biscuits and cereal bars look set to hit New Zealand stores as the ethical-food market continues to skyrocket. Retails sales of fair-trade products - mainly coffee, tea and cocoa products - have surged by more than 400 per cent in the past year to be worth about $4 million, as the booming number of conscious consumers wade into the mainstream.

Fair-trade coffee accounts for about 90 per cent those sales. It also makes up about 2 per cent of the total coffee market after only three years on the scene, a share that is swelling with time. In New Zealand, 22 companies are now licensed to carry the Fair Trade brand - an independent consumer label guaranteeing a fair share to disadvantaged producers in the developing world.

"People like the idea of buying something that will see the rewards go back to the producer, relieving poverty in disadvantaged communities," says Stephen Knapp, director of the Fair Trade Association of Australia and New Zealand. The variety of fair-trade goods was also set to expand significantly in the next couple of years, he said.

"The number of products available in New Zealand are fairly limited, unlike the UK where there are 150 different products, but we're looking at bringing in sugar, cotton, some spices like vanilla, composite products like biscuits, cereal bars ... juices and dried fruit, and coconut products from the Pacific."

The "green is the new black" movement has seen the likes of Wellington interiors manager Nick Young - neither a tree-hugging hippy nor a placard-waving activist - refuse to touch a flat white unless it's certified Fair Trade, organic coffee. "The bottom line is, you treat others the way you want to get treated. When I consume a product, I like to know that no one's being taken advantage of," Mr Young said.

The momentum has seen Wellington's Peoples Coffee, which sells certified Fair Trade organic goodness, grow from a single roaster and shop two years ago to opening two espresso bars and supplying corporates. Owner Matt Lamason says the drawcard is not only the moral high ground, but the quality of the caffeine.

And it's a global trend. In Britain, the ethical-foods market - organic, free range or fair-trade foods - rose 62 per cent in the past four years, and is forecast to be worth ?2 billion ($5.7 billion) this year.

Although still a tiny share of the ?120 billion grocery market, main supermarkets Tesco, Wal-Mart, Asda and Sainsbury have pounced on the potential, stocking their shelves with hundreds of fair-trade products including coffee, cereal, biscuits and beer.

Ethical lift

The rise and rise of the ethical-food market:

* Retail sales of fair-trade products amounted to $3.9 million in the 2005-06 financial year, up from $887,433 the previous year, says the Fair Trade Association of Australia and New Zealand.

* At least once every six months, 33 per cent of New Zealanders aged over 9 avoid products from companies they believe have a poor impact on society and the environment (Nielsen Media Research).

* The proportion of people who correctly defined the term "fair trade" rose from 24 per cent to 37 per cent in the last year (Oxfam NZ).