Recognition of Marlborough as one of 600 Fairtrade towns in the UK was celebrated at the monthly Chamber of Commerce networking breakfast on Wednesday.
The meeting heard from Allison Burden, leader of the Fairtrade Marlborough Steering Group, who was joined by Tesco manager Nick Helps and Waitrose department manager Stephen Fenna.
To become a Fairtrade town, businesses leaders were told, its citizens, council and companies had to show a commitment to Fairtrade produce – where farmers are paid a fair wage for the crops they produce.
Over the past 20 years, Marlborough has embraced Fairtrade produce. Retail anchor Waitrose, the meeting heard, must stock a minimum of four Fairtrade products to qualify for Fairtrade status. At last count, its Fairtrade range extended to 183 products.
Allison, who lives in Marlborough but spent 20 years in Africa and Asia, said she had seen firsthand how minimum prices had made “a huge difference” to growers.
“There is a direct link between coffee prices and malnutrition,” she said. “This is a matter of life and death for producers.”
Stephen said Waitrose was committed to the idea of Fairtrade, and that sales of Fairtrade produce – including coffee, tea, chocolate, bananas, and even wine – were up 75 percent year on year.
This was due in part, he said, to a closing gap between the price of Fairtrade produce and products not carrying the mark.
“Our customers want to make the change because there’s very little price difference,” he asserted.
During last months Fairtrade Fortnight, said Nick, shoppers at Tesco were greeted with a 1930s farm cart loaded with Fairtrade produce. On top of the pile was TV playing a video about Fairtrade.
During the two-week campaign, sales of Fairtrade hot chocolate accounted for 57 percent of product line sales – up from 25 percent. Ground coffee went from five percent Fairtrade to 15 percent while tea – typically the hardest to change, as customers remain brand loyal – went from two percent to seven percent.
Unlike Waitrose, not all of Tesco’s bananas are Fairtrade. The chain, said Nick, offered customers the choice. But, he admitted, non-Fairtrade bananas are sold as a loss leader – the product is one which consumers use to compare prices between supermarkets.
And talking of a race to the bottom, the meeting discussed the plight of UK dairy farmers. Last year, farmers protested after the ‘farm gate price’ they receive for their milk fell to 23p a litre – less than the estimated 30p a litre it cost to produce.
The blame was placed firmly at the door of the supermarkets, some of whom were engaged in a price war with each other – and were driving farm gate prices down.
Allison said the Fairtrade Foundation had said it would not be campaigning on behalf of UK farmers; preferring to concentrate on the world’s poorest producers, living on less than two dollars a day.
Both Stephen and Nick said their respective employers were working hard with the dairy industry to ensure that farmers received a fair price for their produce.
Marlborough businesses who want to find out more about the town’s Fairtrade status, and how to get involved, can find the steering group on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/marlboroughfairtradesteeringroup