It seems rather fitting that the Angel of the North overlooks Traidcraft’s modest office and warehouse in Gateshead because compared to the majority of companies in grocery, Traidcraft is truly angelic.
Founded on Christian principles, Traidcraft became one of the pioneers of fair trade back in 1979 - 15 years before anyone had seen the Fairtrade Mark which celebrates its 10th birthday this week.
Traidcraft’s aim, to fight poverty through trade, has helped improve the livelihoods of hundreds of producers, their families and communities in developing countries simply by paying a fair price for its products and giving assistance to enable these producers to reach Western markets.
But don’t be fooled by its Christian roots. Its principles may have been founded on teachings from the Bible but, 25 years on, it has become is a commercially astute business at the centre of fair trade.
“We’re not a beard and sandals operation,” says marketing director Stuart Palmer. “We’re a highly sophisticated multi-channel business.”
Since Palmer joined five years, Traidcraft has been pushing its products - mostly wine, fruit juice, snack bars and cookies - into the supermarkets. Its biggest success has been its range of snack bars called Geobar, now stocked by all the major multiples, and Palmer says there are plans to build the brand and add line extensions.
However, half of its £13m turnover, which has been growing over 10% year-on-year for the past three years, is generated through 5,000 volunteer reps who sell Traidcraft products at the back of churches, in clubs and workplaces around the country. “They’re our hardcore supporters and they are very keen to see fair trade make a difference,” says Palmer.
Like the volunteer reps, Palmer is dedicated to the cause. He moved from London to Gateshead and took a pay cut to join Traidcraft. “I like sales and marketing,” says Palmer. “But I also like to look after people. I’ve got a strong social conscience.
“But if you’re a marketeer and you want to help people you either end up marketing for a charity or you find this rare opportunity, working in a commercial environment with the knowledge you’re helping people behind the scenes.”
Traidcraft was one of the organisations that help set up the Fairtrade Foundation ten years ago and the ethical coffee and tea company Cafédirect.
And it continues to lead the way in fair trade. It sells many fair trade products that are not yet certified by the Fairtrade Foundation. It sells over £3m of wine from fair trade wineries in South Africa and South America into the Co-operative Group, Waitrose and Sainsbury.
Instead of trying to hang on to its status as the only supplier of fair trade wine, it has worked closely with the foundation to establish new sets of criteria for wine.
Palmer admits there is sometimes conflict between what is best for the Traidcraft brand and what is best for the producers. “It’s quite tough. We’re trying to create a competitive advantage for Traidcraft but at the same time trying to create competitive advantage for the producers that we work with.”
Palmer realises Traidcraft must build its brand and not trade on its ethical status. “It’s important for our products that desire must triumph over sympathy,” he says. “You cannot get away with selling rubbish. It needs to deliver on other benefits. Fair trade is just one of our brand attributes and I’ve always strived to create products that score on lots of different attributes.”
After raising £3.25m through a new share issue in 2002, Traidcraft is investing in NPD and has just launched a branded muesli that has gone into Tesco. It has also beefed up its sales and marketing teams with new recruits in time for the launch of a new Fairtrade lifestyle brand to be launched in the summer that will “stretch across a number of product categories”.