When people browse the aisles at the grocery store, ethical purchases aren’t always as important as affordability. The terms “fair trade” and “organic” typically bring to mind visions of niche, specialty grocery stores — and a hefty price tag.
But today, that’s not the case.
Aldi, a German grocery store chain known for its low prices and no-frills attitude, is entering the fair trade game. Earlier this month, the company announced two new varieties of certified fair trade organic coffee from Honduras and Peru.
Aldi offers an array of affordable fair trade products, including coffee and chocolate. By the end of 2020, the company plans to convert all cocoa used in their store-brand chocolate, cookies, and other products to sustainable sources.
Sustainable product sourcing is a key part of the company’s business model, shattering the idea that ethical equals expensive. In fact, most fair trade products are competitively priced, according to World Fair Trade Organization. By working directly with producers, organizations cut out the middleman to keep products affordable. This business model also ensures farmers and workers get a greater share of the profits.
Let’s take a closer look at what it means to be a fair trade product and why you should consider purchasing fair trade coffee.
What Does Fair Trade Mean?
Fair trade practices are designed to stop the “free trade ‘race to the bottom’ that puts profits above people and the planet,” according to Global Exchange, an international human rights organization.
Two main organizations — Fairtrade International and the World Fair Trade Organization — work together to manage and set standards for certification, and they share the same goal : promoting sustainable farming practices, fair pay, and safe working conditions.
Fair trade products are more than just coffee and chocolate. While coffee was the first agricultural product to become fair trade certified, the designation includes a variety of products like rice, wine, cotton, and jewelry.
Who Benefits From Fair Trade Coffee?
When you purchase fair trade coffee and other products, you’re directly supporting producers in developing countries. Fair trade products benefit producers in four main ways, according to Fairtrade International:
- Stable prices: Fair trade principles set a minimum price for most products to shield farmers and workers from market volatility.
- A fair trade premium: When the market price for a product is higher than the minimum, the extra money goes into what is called a fair trade premium. All of this extra money goes back to the farmers and workers to use however they see fit. Typically, they choose to invest in education, health care, or improvements to their business.
- Partnership: Producers have a voice in the organization’s decision-making process, which can include setting prices, standards and overall strategy.
- Empowerment of farmers and workers: Empowerment builds upon the other benefits by offering transparency and giving workers a voice. Fairtrade stipulates that workers must have a democratic structure. The World Fair Trade Organization has more general principles in this area, stating that producers and organizations must work together to improve the product.
Fair Trade vs. Organic
A common assumption many people make is that fair trade and organic products are one in the same. While the two are closely related, there are some key differences.
Organic products refer only to environmental and farming practices, such as avoiding the use of artificial or genetically modified seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides.
Fair trade products take a more holistic approach, including ethical guidelines along with environmental protections. Coffee and other products adhering to fair trade principles limit chemicals and don’t use genetically modified organisms. In addition, fair trade products stick to guidelines ensuring fair pay and safe working conditions.
Nearly half of all fair trade imports are also organic, according to Fair Trade USA. Fairtrade International also encourages farmers to become organic certified.
Where Does Fair Trade Coffee Come From?
Fair trade coffee is primarily produced in Latin America, with 80% coming from countries like Colombia, Brazil, Peru, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua. Smaller amounts of coffee comes from countries like Uganda, Tanzania, and Indonesia.
Out of all these countries, the majority of fair trade coffee comes from Peru, according to Fair Trade USA.
Fair Trade Facts
Curious to learn more about fair trade coffee? Here are some facts from Fairtrade International:
- In 2013, products certified by Fairtrade International totaled about $5.9 billion in sales worldwide.
- Of the more than 1.5 million Fairtrade farmers and workers, about half are small-scale coffee farmers.
- Coffee makes up 25% of sales, making it the top-selling product.
- Coffee farmers in 30 countries adhere to Fairtrade standards.
Where Can I Buy Fair Trade Coffee?
Most major supermarkets sell fair trade coffee on their shelves, as do many coffee shops.
National brands like Starbucks, Seattle’s Best, Steep and Brew, and Ethical Bean Coffee sell coffee certified by Fairtrade International. Fair Trade USA has a long list of national brands that sell fair trade coffee, including Aldi, Archer Farms, Dunkin Donuts, and Trader Joe’s. Both organizations also list local and regional purveyors.
When trying to make fair trade products appeal to a more mainstream audience, price and location matter. Aldi built its reputation on offering quality products for low prices, and often operates in areas underserved by other grocery stores.
Those who advocate ethical purchasing practices may be more willing to spend a few extra dollars or drive a few more miles to buy a niche product. With that in mind, Aldi’s decision to sell fair trade coffee has an important ripple effect: it makes ethical products more accessible to people who may be unable to shop at other stores due to proximity or price.
By making ethical products more accessible to a larger group of people, Aldi is breaking ground in what could become a larger trend of sustainable shopping.