Fairtrade market experiencing explosive growth in UK and US

Sales of Fairtrade products are on the rise around the world, with the US leading the charge in ethical consumerism. New data showed that overall sales of Fairtrade products grew by 24 percent last year.

The report, released Monday, revealed that Fairtrade-certified products at mainstream retailers in the US grew by 26 percent, compared to 22 percent at specialty grocers and 16 percent at natural grocers.

Sales of Fairtrade products in the US in 2009 were pegged at $1.2 billion (€863 million).

Meanwhile, sales of Fairtrade products in the UK broke the £1 billion mark (€1.16 billion) in 2010, soaring 40 percent to an estimated retail value of £1.17 billion (€1.36 billion). That compared to £836 million (€971 million) the year before.

According to the number crunchers at the Fairtrade Foundation in the UK, that means that every day, Britons consume 9.3 million cups of Fairtrade tea; 6.4 million cups of Fairtrade coffee; 2.3 million Fairtrade chocolate bars, 530,000 cups of Fairtrade hot chocolate; and 3.1 million Fairtrade bananas.

News of the explosive growth in the Fairtrade market comes during Fairtrade Fortnight, which wraps up March 13 and encourages consumers in the UK to show their loyalty to Fairtrade products.

Last year's growth in the UK was propelled in part by major multinational brands making the switch to Fairtrade. Labels like Cadbury Dairy Milk, all Starbucks espresso-based coffee, Nestlé Kit Kat bars, Sainsbury's tea, and Tesco Finest Tea in that region entered the Fairtrade market in response to rising consumer interest and public pressure.

Kit Kat launched their Fairtrade version in January 2010, after succumbing to pressure by Fairtrade campaigns protesting unfair trading practices. The Ivory Coast, for instance, produces 40 percent of the world's cocoa and is one of the poorest countries in the world.

The company was also facing boycott campaigns over what protesters called misleading marketing claims of their baby milk products.

"The challenges of global poverty and inequality are more serious than ever, especially for the farmers who grow the coffee, tea, bananas, rice or cotton on which we depend here in the UK," said Fairtrade Foundation's executive director, Harriet Lamb. "This first billion shows the potential for change."

Easy accessibility and visibility of Fairtrade products at major supermarkets across the country contributed greatly to increased sales, added Cate Baril of Fair Trade USA.

"We are encouraged by the fact that in spite of the economic recession, consumers everywhere are embracing the idea that every purchase matters," said the director of business development, grocery and ingredients in a statement.

The US study, prepared in joint partnership between Fair Trade USA and industry research company SPINS, found that ready-drink coffee and tea led the way in sales growth by 39 percent. Coffee, the flagship fair trade category, also increased in sales by 33 percent due to the increased variety of fair trade coffees sold at major retailers.

The UK also expects to see the Fairtrade momentum grow into 2011, after securing new commitments from companies like Ben & Jerry's, and Green & Black's converting their line of products to Fairtrade.

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