UK falls in love again with fairtrade happy bananas and black coffee

Sales of Fairtrade goods have risen for the first time since 2013 as the increasing popularity of bananas and coffee sold under the ethical label offset falling sales of cocoa and sugar.

Revenues from produce overseen by the Fairtrade Foundation body, which guarantees a minimum price to farmers and additional payments for use on social projects such as schools or clean water provision, rose 2% to £1.64bn in the UK last year.

“We are in growth despite tough economic times and while the grocery market continues to be in disarray,” said Michael Gidney, chief executive of Fairtrade. “There is a sense of businesses committing to Fairtrade backed by unstinting support from the public.”

The sales will trigger payments of about £30m in premiums, on top of the price paid for goods, for use in social projects in developing countries including Malawi and the Dominican Republic.

The volume of bananas, by far the biggest Fairtrade product in the UK, rose 6% amid strong sales at the likes of Sainsbury’s and Waitrose, which only stock the Fairtrade version of the fruit, while Tesco, the UK’s biggest retailer, began stocking Fairtrade bananas for the first time.

Coffee sales rose 8%, while Starbucks launched Fairtrade coffee via its Seattle Best Coffee label which it delivers to offices and other businesses. Lidl also began stocking Fairtrade tea and coffee last year again after delisting it for about a year.

Tea and cocoa sales both slid 3%, again partly as a result of changing habits. It is hoped that cocoa sales will get a boost this year as the Co-op becomes the first UK retailer to switch to selling and using only Fairtrade cocoa in all its own-brand chocolate products, from the sprinkles on its doughnuts to chips in its triple chocolate cookies.

The switch to 100% Fairtrade cocoa, covering over 200 individual Co-op products, will be completed by the end of May. It will lead to a five-fold rise in the amount of Fairtrade cocoa sourced by the retailer, taking the total tonnage from 526 to 2,848 tonnes.

Brad Hill, Fairtrade strategy manager at the Co-op, said: “When we consider that demand for cocoa is set to rise by 30% over the next three years alone, it is imperative that we keep moving forward with sustainability initiatives in order to shape this industry.”

In 2014, sales of Fairtrade goods in the UK fell for the first time since the ethical trading scheme was founded more than 20 years ago, as cash-strapped consumers held back spending.

In 2015 sales slid to £1.6bn from £1.7bn as sales of sugar collapsed by over a third as a result of changes in EU market regulations.