Ten years ago, Alter Eco Fair Trade opened a small store in Paris that sold fair trade furniture, handcrafts, and some food products. Three years later, the company launched fair trade food products in mass retail, including the French store chain, Monoprix, which has 267 stores. By 2003, Alter Eco Fair Trade was France’s number one fair trade brand. In 2004, the company opened an office in San Francisco to prepare for a product launch in North America. A year later, Alter Eco launched products in North America.
Alter Eco Americas is the first company to “offer a complete range of fair trade food products through mass retail in the U.S.” The company’s products are now in specialty food stores, grocery stores, and Whole Foods. The products sold in the U.S. are coffee, tea, rice, quinoa, and sugar.
The company’s stated goals are the following:
* To provide consumers with quality products
* To encourage the development of independent producers as well as distributors who are concerned with social issues.
* To maximize the openings for marginalized producers by developing the sale of Fair Trade goods.
Alter Eco’s Consumer Survey
Last fall, Alter Eco released the results of its consumer survey. The survey was conducted with researchers from six major U.S. universities. The survey looked at how familiar consumers are with fair trade and the availability of fair trade products.
The majority of American consumers surveyed are familiar with the term fair trade. In 2005, only 47.5 percent of European consumers surveyed by Alter Eco were familiar with the term. Almost half heard of fair trade within the past three years, and only one in five (20 percent) were aware of the term for over a decade. Almost half learned about fair trade through television or the press.
A little over a half (46.2 percent) said they see fair trade products where they usually shop. A third (37.9 percent) said that availability of fair trade products would influence where they shopped. Half (52.7 percent) would look for fair trade products in grocery or natural food stores, and 27.8 percent in farmer’s markets. The availability of fair trade products in retail outlets (64.2 percent) would increase the frequency of purchases among those who previously bought fair trade products.
Fair trade products during a recession
Four years ago a Harvard study said consumers are willing to pay more for products labeled fair trade. The economy has contracted greatly since then. However, a recent survey conducted by GlobeScan shows that American consumers are still willing to pay more for fair trade products.
According to the survey, 81 percent of American consumers say that seeing the Fair Trade Certified label positively affects their perception of a brand. Fifty-seven percent say they would spend at least five percent more for Fair Trade Certified products. Despite the recession, sales of Fair Trade Certified products grew by ten percent last year.
“Given the continuing rise of the ethical consumer right through the economic crisis, Fair Trade Certified is one of the brands most likely to succeed in these times,” said Doug Miller, Chairman of GlobeScan.
“This research and our 2008 sales figures put to rest any thought that Fair Trade Certified is a boom-time luxury,” said Paul Rice, the chief executive of TransFair USA.”Today, consumers want to know a product’s history, from farm to shelf. In the midst of the deepest recession of our generation, this sentiment is stronger than ever – it’s proof that we’ve entered a new era of ethical consumerism.”