U.K.'s Fairtrade Aims to Capitalize on Shift in Britons' Purchasing Behavior

Group Unveils Push to Keep Consumers Choosing Ethically Sourced Food, Clothing

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LONDON (AdAge.com) -- While the recession saw consumers scrimping and saving, many found something worth paying a premium for: a clear conscience. Sales of Fairtrade products grew 12% last year to $1.2 billion in the U.K., as ethically sourced goods edge toward becoming part of the mainstream weekly shopping trip for British consumers.

TRADING UP: Wieden & Kennedy created 'swapometer' to register purchases.
TRADING UP: Wieden & Kennedy created 'swapometer' to register purchases.
Although Fairtrade sales are still only a sliver of the market -- the U.K. grocery industry alone is worth $232 billion a year -- the Fairtrade Foundation is pushing hard to raise awareness of its mission. It's trying to get 2 million people to commit to exchanging everyday staples for Fairtrade options during a fifth annual "Fairtrade Fortnight," which kicked off Feb. 22 and runs through March 7.

Harriet Lamb, CEO of the Fairtrade Foundation, said, "2009 was a tough year for everyone, but a desperate year for many small farmers in developing countries. It is to the credit of the British and Irish public that, despite the recession, they are still voting with their wallets for fairness and want to change the indignities of an unjust trading system."

Fairtrade was set up in 1992 by U.K. charities including Oxfam and Christian Aid to help producers in developing countries. If a product is labeled Fairtrade, it has been produced ethically, and the producers have been paid a fair price. The initiative has grown to 21 countries around the world.

The theme of this year's Fairtrade Fortnight is "The Big Swap," encouraging people across the U.K. and Ireland to to break old shopping habits and start new Fairtrade ones, during the two-week promotion. More than 4,500 products are now licensed to carry the Fairtrade mark, which started with just tea and coffee.

Catching on
In the last year, a significant number of mainstream brands have adopted Fairtrade practices. They include Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate, all Starbucks espresso-based coffee, Nestlé's four-finger Kit Kat and Tate & Lyle sugar. Supermarket chains Tesco, Sainsbury's and Morrison's all sell their own labels of Fairtrade teas and coffees. And Unilever-owned ice-cream brand Ben & Jerry's has just announced it will go 100% Fairtrade in the U.K. this year, spreading throughout Europe by the end of 2011, and be all-Fairtrade globally by the end of 2013.

Fashion is also getting in on the act. "Harry Potter" star Emma Watson is collaborating with People Tree, a Fairtrade pioneer, on a collection of youthful clothing that went on sale this week. Online retailer Asos is launching a Fairtrade jersey-wear collection and supermarket giant Tesco has agreed to double the number of Fairtrade cotton school uniforms in its stock.

Wieden & Kennedy, London, created a campaign to support the "Big Swap" and encourage the 71% of respondents who told U.K. government website YouGov that they are willing to swap one or more products to Fairtrade to deliver on the promise. Wieden created The Big Swap website, featuring a "swapometer," with the goal of registering a million swaps by the end of the two-week promotion. A range of in-store promotions include free coasters in Starbucks and 1.4 million Fairtrade stickers that will appear on bags of bananas in supermarkets around the country.

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