Fair trade wins fans

In a recession, you might imagine that everyone would stop buying anything but “value” items. But it appears the economic meltdown of the last two years has had an effect on the ethics of what people buy as well as the price. People want to support causes that do good business.

Lightspeed Research has carried out some exclusive research for Marketing Week (click here to read the full report) on fairly traded goods, looking at what people are buying and why. Seventy per cent of respondents believe that fair trade genuinely benefits growers and producers, with almost one in five agreeing strongly with this. And 50% of respondents have a better opinion of brands which bear the Fairtrade marque.

Young people are apparently the most likely to have a better opinion of brands that have fair-trade certified products. But older consumers are more likely to agree that they feel more loyalty to a brand that has fair trade products.

The place that most people look to buy fair trade goods is The Co-Op. Fifty-six per cent of people claim they would look to The Co-Op to buy such goods, while 55% would turn to Tesco, 50% to Sainsbury and 40% to Asda. When people actually get round to spending their money on fair trade products, they do so most often at Tesco (35%), while The Co-Op sits behind at 32%. While 29% might think of Oxfam as a natural home for fair trade, just 5% actually buy their items from there.

This seems to indicate that fair trade goods sell best when they are present in the places that people shop anyway. The public is aware that ethical retailers like The Co-Op would be natural stockists of fairly traded goods but shoppers are really spending their time in the aisle at Tesco. The more products bearing the Fairtrade logo appear in large retailers, the more likely that sales will go up.

One area that is still ripe for improvement is consumer education about the breadth of items available with a Fairtrade label. While 72% of people know that coffee can be bought with fair trade certification, with 63% for tea and 58% for chocolate, just 10% are aware that fair trade flowers exist, with only 6% knowledgeable about fair trade beauty products.

Overall, it seems that the market for fair trade goods is in pretty good shape going into 2010. Considering that people generally consider that such products will be slightly more expensive than their non-fairly traded purchases, convincing them to keep buying throughout 2009 has been no small victory for the brands and retailers involved.

And what will change in 2010? According to the Fairtrade Foundation’s marketing director Cheryl Sloane, the organisation will be promoting not only that the Fairtrade marque means fair prices for farmer’s crops but also that it holds producers to environmental standards and refuses child labour. Nicola Pearson, the marketing director of Cafédirect, agrees that it is time for a “broader agenda”, saying that her brand will be promoting such topics as the real effects of climate change on growers this year.

It appears that as the UK moves out of recession this year, the effect of the economic turmoil of the past two years will be not only the depressing facts of increased unemployment and reduced wage packets but something more positive. The British public may have learnt that good business is worth paying for.