/ Food & Drink

Buy Fairtrade? You’d be bananas not to

Bunches of bananas

It’s Fairtrade Fortnight, but with the cost of food increasing and budgets reaching breaking point, can you afford to put ethical food at the top of your shopping list?

We might spend less than our parents did on food as a percentage of our income, but with the continued squeeze on our wallets, price continues to dominate the choices we make about the food we buy.

So I was surprised to read that last year sales of Fairtrade goods increased by 19%, particularly as recent Which? research shows three quarters of us are worried about food prices. Even our supermarket survey reflects this, with ‘discount’ stores Aldi and Lidl making the top three. Why are we still buying ethically?

Choice editing

Of course, buying ethically is not just about Fairtrade. There are many other ethical schemes, and research we carried out in 2010 showed we’re all becoming more aware of them.

Choice is a factor that influences our decisions, as well as quality, and more good quality mainstream products are now available. In the past you had to go to great lengths to hunt down Fairtrade coffee or chocolate, but now Fairtrade products are available in most supermarkets.

The concept of ‘choice editing’ also comes into play. For some products, supermarkets and manufacturers are taking away our choice to buy anything but Fairtrade. Go to your local Sainsbury’s, Waitrose or Co-op and the only bananas available will be Fairtrade.

Of course it’s not just bananas. Over the last few years we’ve seen more products, such as chocolate and sugar, make the switch. The range of Fairtrade food and drink now available is much wider, offering products as diverse as sweets and wine.

Can we afford to buy ethical?

With about four out of five people saying they’ve seen their grocery bill increase over the last year, can we afford to buy ethically? Many people are already struggling to buy the food they need for their families, so the possible extra price premium for Fairtrade or organic might seem a stretch too far.

But equally, can we afford not to? Food prices might seem high now, but if we don’t introduce more sustainable and ethical practices, or even eat more seasonally, we’ll see prices continue to increase. More and more shortages of crops and pressures on food quality will lead to a scarcity of good quality, reliable and affordable food.

So in this economic climate do you buy ethical food products, or do you think they are a luxury?


I buy whatever looks best, and is best value, so sometimes that will be Fairtrade and sometimes not. I’m well aware that some companies don’t source all there Fairtrade goods from Fairtrade suppliers and that with a little creative accounting they can still can their product is Fairtrade. So I’m sorry but just cos it says Fairtrade means very little to me. It only takes one to play the rule game to spoil it for the rest of them.

I will pay a little more for Fairtrade products but, like William, it concerns me that they may not be genuine. If unscrupulous people substitute beef with horse meat despite the fact that it is easy to check that this has been done, it seems likely that not all Fairtrade produce is genuine.

If someone can convince me that Fairtrade products are very likely to be genuine then I will be much happier to buy them. I wonder what Trading Standards would say if a member of public said that they suggested that a Fairtrade product might be counterfeit.

Here’s a nice example of how that fair trade bar of chocolate you’ve just eaten might in fact contain ZERO fair trade cocoa.

Makes me think they need more than one Fair trade label. One for those that are genuine 100% Fair trade, and those that aren’t but by playing the rules can still claim to be.

At least the Fairtrade Foundation should be commended for being honest.

Fair trade if the price is fair. My concern, like others, is that this is so easily open to abuse – like organic food – so as a sceptic I would not buy just because it is labelled fair trade, unless from a very reputable source.

With organic food, buying from a local farmer could be the best way of buying the genuine article because the produce does not pass through the hands of various companies, as could happen with supermarket produce or processed food.

I don’t know enough about how Fairtrade food is policed to ensure that we are buying what is claimed, but even the Fairtrade Foundation admits that there are problems with traceability of some products. I would still take the risk in buying Fairtrade products at a reasonable price, on the basis that they are likely to be genuine. On the other hand, some of the misleading information and downright lies we are fed about organic produce does put me off.

Perhaps I’m being too narrow-minded, but if I buy something as coming from a particular source then I believe it should be from that source. In the case of cocoa beans, it may be better to sell to producers who can use the fair trade material exclusively or, perhaps better still, a fair trade manufacturer of chocolate products allied to the farmers to further help the local economy.
In effect we are donating $200 a tonne in a charitable way to support the farmers – it doesn’t feel quite right if we don’t receive the product in return.

Maybe I’m just worrying about a problem that doesn’t exist, Malcolm. You and I will buy from places we trust but for Fairtrade to maintain consumers’ confidence it is important that the branding can be trusted irrespective of the source. It is encouraging that a wider range of Fairtrade products is available than what was on offer a few years ago.