Fair trade lines have been expanded at a fast pace in the past two years, with more than 900 products now available to UK consumers in the world’s biggest fair trade market. Fiona McLelland reports

The Fairtrade Foundation is likely to celebrate World Fair Trade Day today, May 14, by congratulating itself on passing the 900-product mark.
That’s impressive growth, considering that two years ago UK shoppers had a choice of only 150 Fairtrade lines. Now, however, consumers have an extensive array of products available, from fruit and coffee to flowers and footballs.
And there is more reason to celebrate, as this year the UK overtook Switzerland as the world’s biggest Fairtrade market, with year-on-year sales growing at 51% to £140m, according to the Fairtrade Foundation.
While much of the growth can be attributed to the ever-increasing number of products, well-established lines such as ground coffee, which holds a 14.2% share of the fair trade market, and bananas are growing 13% and 34% in value respectively [TNS 52 w/e March 27, 2005]. Instant coffee sales are up 35% year-on-year growth and account for 4% of total instant coffee sales.
But success hasn’t come easily, says Harriet Lamb, executive director of the Fairtrade Foundation.
“It has taken years to lay the foundations. Now that we’ve built up the brand, demand is growing and we’re beginning to flourish - the consumer is hungry for Fairtrade products,” says Lamb.
“People can see there is world poverty but the problem is so overwhelming they don’t think they can do anything about it.
“Fairtrade is a fantastic way for the consumer to do something simple that will have a direct impact.”
Lamb says that continued commercial viability and drive for quality are critical to the future of fair trade products, as supermarkets have to make money and consumers must repeat purchase if producers are to see any benefit.
According to TNS, The Co-operative Group is responsible for driving much of the overall growth of the market. Year-on-year sales for its Fair Trade label are up 67% to £25m, largely because of range additions, says group marketing development manager, Brad Hill.
However, Hill is encouraged that the likes of Tesco and Asda are beginning to increase their Fairtrade offers to raise the profile of the products and bring them more into the mainstream.
“I am pleased to see that, having been largely responsible for creating the sector, the multiples are at last beginning to take notice and become involved in fair trade themselves.
“It’s not right that the Co-op
has a 31% share of all UK fair trade grocery sales.”
Fair trade lines available at Asda have increased 47% year-on-year, and Tesco, which introduced the Fairtrade mark on its products in March last year, has also expanded its range, according to Lamb.
She adds that Waitrose, Somerfield, Booker and Budgens are all working with the foundation to boost the number of products.
As retailers’ acceptance of Fairtrade products has grown, so has the willingness of new players to enter the market.
JP Juices director Tim Kearns set up his fair trade business 15 months ago and now produces for the The Co-op and Greggs, as well as for foodservice.
He says that consumer and retailer acceptance of Fairtrade products has meant that his products have gone straight into the mainstream.
Lamb also believes that developing new categories is key to Fairtrade’s continued success. Basmasti rice, seafood and a more extensive range of nuts are all expected to hit the shelves with the Fairtrade mark in the near future, she says.
However, she admits that Fairtrade is still in its infancy, and that much more must be done to help the movement.
“We’ve still a long way to go. Any product - even the paper packaging - can and should be Fairtrade. We know we are not a charity, and for Fairtrade to work, our products have to work commercially.
“It really does make a difference to poor farmers, and I hope that is also important to retailers.”