Does Fairtrade really need a fortnight to sell itself anymore?

Today is the first day of Fairtrade Fortnight, it’s a nice literation, but given the success of Fairtrade – sales have risen last year by over 19% to £694m –  do they really need two weeks of promotion any more?

Well it seems the battle is not won, despite producing 70% of the world’s food, over half of the world’s hungriest people are smallholder farmers, so the Fairtrade Foundation are calling on David Cameron to champion a better deal at this year’s G8 conference.

Year on year, Fairtrade has been growing, in part from more and more consumers adopting more ethical buying habits and because many big brands  are adopting it.  Plus supermarkets selling FT at an honest price, instead of ripping consumers off with inflated prices as they use to do. Note the key driver is fair trade for people not environmentalism, when it comes to conscientious consumers, people are more important than the planet.

Cadbury’s (Kraft), KitKat (Nestle), Maltesers (Mars), Ben & Jerry’s (Unilever) and Tate & Lyle have all helped boost FT’s sales, but it does beg the question, “is the consumer buying a Fairtrade KitKat or just a KitKat that’s now Fairtrade?”

Confectionary has been one of the biggest growth areas, the other big growth area is own label, an area the Co-operative is big on. Tesco’s have joined the bandwagon with a growing range of FT products from green beans to school uniforms. What once was a niche area is now becoming mainstream, bit like ‘free range’ has.

Retailers, especially the Co-operative, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose have strongly supported FT for years, with Sainsbury’s now selling almost £215m worth of FT a year. Asda, by contrast, under trades and claims that FT is declining in their stores whilst local is rising. This I suspect is where the class difference comes in, middle class consumers like Fairtrade (along with organics), while working class consumers are more community minded so prefer local. Though Asda still sells over £50m of FT products.

Nearly 94% of the 22 millions UK households claim they have bought FT, I’m not sure I believe that but suspect it’s a classic ‘sounds like a good answer to give’ to someone asking that question. Many years ago when I worked with Traidcraft 74% of people said they bought FT but only 14% actually did.

Fairtrade has successfully extended its reach beyond food and drink into clothing, toiletries and now even condoms – Four Squared are available in the Co-operative and many other outlets.

Of course Fairtrade Fortnight wouldn’t be a celebration without some good PR gimmicks – the Co-op have a car powered by coffee, the invention of Martin Bacon. Ummm? But it has made it into the Guinness Book of Records.

Sadly FT’s new campaign video hasn’t been posted up yet, so I can’t comment on that.

They have launched ‘Marchers’, sort of box people (by Foldable.Me) who are like an avatar who virtually march. Once signed up your marcher becomes part of an event during Fairtrade Fortnight to let even more people know about their petition to the government to support smallholder farmers.  About 10 years ago I proposed setting up the first virtual march for students – millions of avatars in the streets of Westminster –  but sadly it was too ahead of the technology curve. Students loved the idea – protesting without leaving their digs.

I do feel that the Fairtrade Foundation needs a harder hitting ad campaign, social media campaigns are fun but not heavy weight enough to lead a change or to influence politicians. And tougher PR. But they are not alone, the recent Soil Association organics campaign was limp at best.

There’s no doubt that Fairtrade is the most successful and most recogonised ethical labeling scheme of all time. It is also the label that commands the greatest response from consumers, more so than Organic or the Rainforest Alliance (though their campaign ‘Follow the Frog’ is far better than anything the Fairtrade Foundation has ever done).

Personally I find it amazing that many good causes have a week, Fairtrade two weeks, but the one thing that could change the whole world –  love  – has just one dedicated day a year!

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