12 February 2021, 08:59 AM
  • Ethical shoppers are seeking out more Fairtrade products, and independent food shops hold the key to boosting consumer awareness
Covid-19 sparks demand for Fairtrade products

Over 2020, demand for Fairtrade products such as bananas, cocoa, coffee and wine boomed as the pandemic shook up the shopping and eating habits of Brits, making ethical products more desirable.

The Ethical Consumer’s Ethical Markets Report revealed that Fairtrade purchases rose by 15% last year, while nearly 30% of consumers pledged to buy more Fairtrade goods in the future. Further research cited by the Fairtrade Foundation noted that the proportion of shoppers choosing Fairtrade products over an alternative was higher than ever before in Fairtrade’s history.

With demand for ethically made food and drink rising, fine food independents hold the key to communicating the provenance of such products to customers. “The independent retail sector still has a really important role to play, both in making Fairtrade products accessible to everyone, but also in pioneering new products,” Catherine David, commercial director at the Fairtrade Foundation, tells Speciality Food.

For example, she says brands such as Divine Chocolate, which are not only certified Fairtrade but are also partly owned by farmers, “really get their foothold through the independent sector”.

By boosting the most exciting Fairtrade brands, indies have the opportunity to influence the wider food and drink sector and use their expertise to play a defining role in catering to the new ethical consumer. “My sense is that the bigger retailers look at what’s going on in the independent sector to get ideas,” Catherine says. “Then hopefully, it translates to bigger impact for farmers, as it then scales up through the big retailers too.”

The Fairtrade Foundation, which will hold its annual Fairtrade Fortnight virtually from 22nd February through 7th March, says the growing support comes at a key time for farmers, who are being hit by climate change as well as the economic impacts of Covid-19.

But while Covid has caused “a crisis on top of a crisis” for farmers, Catherine says that at the same time the pandemic has led to increased investments from the foundation’s partners, and the growing awareness from consumers. “There’s this interesting impact on consumer behavior, where I think because of the disruption to supply chains that we saw, particularly the beginning of the pandemic, people have become really aware of the importance of supply chains.

“People increasingly expect businesses to be paying a fair price. And I think if you’re not doing that at this point, you’re actually facing quite a big risk,” Catherine says. With consumers more willing than ever to invest in ethical food and drink products, independents have an opportunity to show the very best of what this sector has to offer.

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