Co-operative stores across the UK embrace Fairtrade products

As the UK celebrates Fairtrade Fortnight, Brad Hill, Fairtrade Strategy Manager for the Co-operative Group, discusses the society's pioneering approach to Fairtrade and how easy it is for...

As the UK celebrates Fairtrade Fortnight, Brad Hill, Fairtrade Strategy Manager for the Co-operative Group, discusses the society's pioneering approach to Fairtrade and how easy it is for customers to switch to the ethical choice . . .

Having led the market since the inception of the Fairtrade Mark, the Co-operative Group’s response to the increasing competition was to raise the bar. As an important and integral part of our ambitious Ethical Plan, we have declared that if a product can be labelled as Fairtrade, then it will be.

By the end of this year, we are aiming for 90 per cent of that target to be achieved. We are also deepening our commitment to producers in our own co-operative way – through a unique range of support projects and initiatives.

We were delighted to welcome many of our Fairtrade producers to the fantastic Co-operatives United event in Manchester last year. This was a great opportunity for thousands of visitors to speak to the producers directly to hear how Fairtrade impacts on their communities, as well as learning more about The Co-operative’s additional beyond Fairtrade projects.

Sales of Fairtrade bananas more than doubled by the end of 2012 thanks to our 100 per cent Fairtrade switch last February. The conversion made huge impact on our ‘if it can be Fairtrade it will be’ target, and benefited thousands of producers. At the time of the switch, we aimed for at least half of our fruit to be grown by smallholder farmers, which is now the case. We have also funded two beyond Fairtrade projects; in Panama at the COOBANA banana co-operative and in the Dominican Republic where a banana training school is being set up to train the next generation of smallholder banana farmers.

When we switched all our tea to Fairtrade in 2008, we began scoping out an ambitious plan to bring together thousands of smallholder tea farmers in Kenya to give them Fairtrade market access by becoming a co-op, with the intention of packing some of their product into our 99 Tea brand. The new Fintea co-op started trading this time last year, when we committed to 10 per cent of the 99 blend being sourced from the co-operative.

A few weeks ago, we announced the launch of 99 Gold – a stronger, more premium blend – with half the tea sourced from the now 15,000-strong Fintea co-operative. The project has also enabled diversification, with additional income now being generated through new crops.

Our chocolate bar range was the very first “100 per cent conversion” to Fairtrade, and 2012 was the tenth anniversary of the switch. Our chocolate bars remain the only 100 per cent Fairtrade own-brand range and continue to support three producer co-operatives in Peru, Dominican Republic and Ghana through ongoing additional payments over and above the Fairtrade premium.

While the Ghanaian Kuapa Kokoo’s premium is paid into a ‘producer support and development fund’ which addresses strategic matters, Conacado in the Dominican Republic have social projects such as schooling as priorities. In Peru, Acopagro co-operative funds are going towards a much-needed reforestation project. The range continues to be refreshed – look out for the launch of several exciting new varieties in the coming months!

This year marks the tenth anniversary since we became the first and only supermarket to switch our entire own-brand coffee range to Fairtrade. This important milestone is marked by two exciting new beyond Fairtrade projects, supporting two of the co-operatives who featured in our campaigning Coffee Report a decade ago.

In Colombia, over 1,000 smallholder coffee producers of the Aguadas co-operative will be supported to improve their coffee storage and drying facilities, thus improving the quality and productivity of coffee. The project will also help farmers to improve environmental practices, including composting waste, to help increase productivity by providing nutrients to coffee plants.

In Guatemala, 12 primary coffee co-operatives, that are members of the coffee co-operative union Fedecocagua, will benefit from capacity building and training, in particular helping them to achieve Fairtrade certification. The project will also support three other groups of coffee producers to form into co-operatives, achieve Fairtrade certification and become member co-operatives of Fedecocagua, helping them to own more of the value chain. In total, 5,000 smallholder coffee producers are set to benefit.

In 2006, The Co-operative became the first retailer to introduce Fairtrade wines from Argentina, when the La Riojana co-operative became the first winery to receive Fairtrade certification. Since receiving this certification, La Riojana’s members and workers, together with their families and local communities, have started to see the direct benefits of Fairtrade and the additional premiums that have been generated by the sales of The Co-operative’s wines.

One such local community which has seen these benefits is the small isolated village of Tilimuqui which is found nestled in the Famatina Valley, in the north west province of La Rioja.

A new secondary school, inaugurated in May 2010, is the first Fairtrade-funded secondary school ever built in Argentina and was also largely funded by sales of The Co-operative’s own-brand Fairtrade Argentine range. Before the new school, Tilimuqui only offered children schooling up to the age of 14 and many children did not go on to study further due to the difficulties and cost of going to secondary schools outside the village. The school has increased its number of pupils year by year, starting with just 33 pupils in the first intake in March 2010. Once this modern agri-technical school is running at full capacity, it is expected to have a total of 300 pupils, and will see its first class graduate as agricultural technicians in 2015.

Thanks to a beyond Fairtrade project in Chile at the Apicoop co-operative, production of Fairtrade blueberries was increased significantly this season due to new packing and improved quality control. This meant that in November 2012, we were able to announce that we would become the very first supermarket to switch all winter blueberries to Fairtrade.

Our ambition to move more categories exclusively into Fairtrade continues into this year with the recent announcement that all our roses now will be sourced only from Kenya under Fairtrade terms. This is across the range of all standard single stems and bunches of roses, and will provide additional benefits to the workers at farms in the Lake Naivasha and Kericho regions of the country.

With Fairtrade Fortnight now upon us, we clearly have a lot to shout about!

In store, our market-leading “20 per cent off” promotional offer will be not be missed, with plenty of point-of-sale material, radio mentions, merchandising displays and messages around the till areas. Around stores, leaflet drops and press activity will drive awareness and bring in customers.

As we celebrate ten years of Fairtrade coffee, we literally went "further for Fairtrade” by commissioning the world’s only coffee-fuelled car! Powered by the waste from coffee production, the car, nicknamed the Bean Machine, will be touring our stores nationwide throughout the Fortnight and aiming to reach a total distance of 1,600 miles.

We are also delighted to welcome two members of the Guatemalan Fedecocagua co-operative, who will be attending a number of membership-hosted events throughout the UK during the two week celebration. Look out for details of the tour, and find out when these producers will be at an event near you to hear first-hand about all things Fairtrade and our unique beyond Fairtrade project in Guatemala.

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