Fairtrade Fortnight

Today is the first day of the annual UK Fairtrade Fortnight. These two weeks focus consumers’ attention onto products that are harvested and manufactured by companies complying with the strict (and expensive) regulations of the Fairtrade Foundation and Fairtrade Labeling Organisation.

Although this focus is on all Fairtade products (and it seems FT cotton is receiving particular attention this year) there is a wide range of Fairtrade wine available in UK retail. You can find a pretty comprehensive list here.

It would be fair to say that Fairtrade wine has not quite found the same resonance with consumers that products like coffee, fruit, chocolate or flowers may have. This is not surprising, as wine is a product category that is unique and one that many marketers have failed to grasp the complexity of in the past.

Where does Fairtrade wine actually fit in?

Don’t get me wrong; I am not claiming to have all the answers! But one of the questions that needs to be resolved regarding the position of Fairtrade wine is where exactly it fits in? Retailers vary in their merchandising strategy for wines but most fall into a few categories. They tend to group wines either by country, or by varietal (and by implication colour) and then within those sections, by price.  To date, a number of retailers have merchandised Fairtrade wine as a separate category in a similar way that organic wines were presented when they first came on the scene.

This is a mistake in my humble opinion. Fairtrade certification for a wine should be an added extra – something that adds value to it when compared to others competing for the consumer’s attention and makes it more attractive. In the past there has been a perception that Fairtrade certification was an excuse for average  to poor quality wine. Sadly, this may well have been the case. But the quality has improved and these wines should not be forced to sell on the cheap due to poor consumer perceptions.

A Fairtrade Chenin Blanc should be seen first as a Chenin Blanc and then anything that makes it different to the others on the shelf should be considered. If we can start to see that approach being taken we will start to win more wine consumers over and encourage them to trial these wines. This will not be sustainable if producers are forced to resort to excessive discounts to make up for retailers failure to position Fairtrade appropriately.

As a South African, where there remains a huge economic disparity between many of the participants in the wine industry, the ability of Fairtrade to bridge some of those divides is something that has real value to me. Fairtrade does not see itself as a charity and neither should consumers. If producers want to ensure that, they need to participate in the market on an even playing field. That implies consistent, good quality in the bottle and a sensibly positioned competitive price. Not a special rack that we’re asked to look at for two weeks a year.

One Response to “Fairtrade Fortnight”

  1. E.A.Saffron says:

    I couldn’t agree more that FairTrade is not a charity -it should actually be how things are! You hit the nail on the head in your last paragraph.