Fairtrade gives Sainsbury’s “a competitive advantage”

Fairtrade gives Sainsbury’s the edge over its competitors, as well as being an ethical way to trade, according to its chief executive Justin King.

Justin King

Speaking at the supermarket’s Fairtrade Conference on Tuesday (16 February), on the eve of Fairtrade Fortnight, he said: “I believe in Fairtrade for Fairtrade’s sake. But I also believe in Fairtrade because it gives my business a competitive advantage. I don’t see any disconnect in that.”Sainsbury’s announced on the same day that it had overtaken Wal-Mart as the world’s biggest retailer of Fairtrade products with one in every four pounds spent on Fairtrade products in the UK spent at Sainsbury’s.

King talked about how Fairtrade has succeeded during the recession where organic produce has faltered because there is a clear story behind it.

“Fairtrade, for us, has stayed focused on telling the story of ’why’. We’ve done a good job already but we need to do even better at making sure customers get the message. One theme that should come through all the debate is that it should start with consumers. In the end, having something that means something to consumers is what really matters.”

He is convinced that Sainsbury’s has managed to communicate the Fairtrade message with consumers since putting the stamp on its bananas in 2007.

However, he concedes that the prize in Fairtrade is not attracting consumers “who really get it and buy a large proportion of Fairtrade”, but catching those “who may be persuadable”.

The Fairtrade Foundation’s two weeks of events begin on Monday 22 February with its “Big Swap” campaign, which aims to encourage consumers to swap everyday products for their Fairtrade counterparts.

King says that Fairtrade requires a new way of working as it is not just about the products themselves but the entire supply chain.

“Either consumers or retailers have to choose to bear the cost [of Fairtrade]. We have to make sure that any unnecessary costs are not in the [supplier] system,” he said.

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