A bite of Alter-Eco’s Dark Chocolate and Quinoa with a cup of rooibos superfruit tea from Choice’s organic Jane Goodall tea collection. Let's follow that with Kopali's organic banana bites dipped in chocolate chased by Numi’s cardamom tea and then a spoonful of Coconut Bliss ice cream with Zhena’s Gypsy Coconut Chai.
These were a few of the delicious samplings I tried at the recent Natural Products Expo West 2012 -- where coffee, chocolates, teas and all Fair Trade goods were booming -- at a launch gathering of 20 partners of Fair Trade USA.
According to data from SPINS, specializing in natural product research, the Fair Trade Certified label is making a difference with mainstream consumers, with products boasting an impressive 75% increase in the mass market during 2011.
The huge success of Ben & Jerry’s and Honest Tea may account for some of this, but figures in other studies, such as Harvard and Globescan, also claims the Fair Trade label leaves a good taste with consumers who will switch if products are connected to a good cause.
And the good news, there are thousands of Fair Trade products to choose from and it's making a difference for millions of farmers globally.
In speaking with CEO Paul Rice and Katie Barrow of Fair Trade USA about the changes since separating from the international organization Fair Trade Labeling Organizations International (FLO), they addressed concerns about the transition.
By investing in farmers around the world who own their own land in cooperatives, in addition to workers on someone else’s farm, the intention is to reach more people and make a bigger dent in global poverty. The inclusive framework allows Fair Trade USA to provide benefits to four million more workers at companies, large and small, that adopt responsible practices.
Its “Fair Trade for All” initiative, designed to double the impact by 2015, extends the benefits of Fair Trade to workers on farms who can’t belong to a cooperative for a variety of reasons, such as geographic location, Rice explained.
Despite criticisms that the split from FLO favors the corporatization of farms, the plan brings benefits and premiums to more farmers and farm workers.
“This pilot program extends the existing standards for products like flowers and bananas to coffee farms," noted Barrow. "This ensures that we're empowering workers on those farms and benefiting communities -- not affecting the sales of co-ops, which is still the majority of farms.”
Their nonprofit partner Fundacion Runa reinvests their premiums into environmental management, financial literacy and women’s education. If the individual farmers do create a cooperative, Fair Trades Co-Op Link will offer technical skills and sales support.
Another example, a farm in Brazil, which recently achieved Fair Trade certification, has elected a workers committee to address conditions and healthcare benefits, such as eye exams and glasses, available through the Fair Trade premium. The flexibility of allowing for different types of farms and farmers seems reasonable and makes me wonder how Fair Trade USA might make inroads in the U.S. to assist farmers with yet a different criteria.
In the meantime, Fair Trade chocolates and teas, spices, wines and ice cream taste better, and it's encouraging to see sales soar which benefits everyone.