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Tom Schueneman headshot

American Idol Kelly Clarkson Rallies Support for Fair Trade Coffee

For most Americans, our morning cup of coffee is the requisite first step before anything else that may occupy our to-do list for the day. It's unlikely, while groping bleary-eyed for the coffee pot or the $5 bill for the local barista, that our thoughts are focused on the origins of our daily brew. In our early morning delirium, we may be more inclined to idly ponder last evening's latest American Idol competition than where the coffee beans in our morning cup came from, how they were grown or who grew them.

That's ok, you're forgiven. It's early.

And you'll forgive me if you're either not a slow-riser (I suspect most 3p readers are, unlike myself, more of the up-and-at-em temperament) or a fan of American Idol. But whether you are a fan or not, shows like American Idol are a big part of today's mainstream culture, launching careers and wielding impressive brand awareness.

It seems almost everyone's heard of American Idol, but, alas, only 38 percent of consumers are familiar with Fair Trade. Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Inc. (GMCR), the world’s largest purchaser of Fair Trade certified coffee, hopes to change this gap in awareness. Earlier this year, Green Mountain Coffee, a brand within GMCR, enlisted the popularity and goodwill of Kelly Clarkson, one of American Idol’s best-known winners, and a popular music celebrity in her own right.

"There's an enormous population within the United States that's sort of glued to those sort of social experiences," Lindsey Bolger, GMCR's VP of Coffee Sourcing & Excellence, told me in a recent interview. "And Kelly's so dialed into that demographic, into that population base, she can reach people that we're just not able to."

In June, Clarkson and a team from GMCR traveled to Peru to meet with local coffee growers, learn about how coffee is made and why it's important that more people know about Fair Trade. Based on Clarkson's experience and interaction with local coffee producers, the Green Mountain Coffee brand launched Great Coffee, Good Vibes in mid-September.
We knew that Kelly is a coffee drinker and loved our coffee," said Sandy Yusen, Green Mountain Coffee's Director of PR. "But she also didn't know a lot about where coffee comes from or how it's grown. She'd heard of Fair Trade but didn't know a lot about it. We thought it was an opportunity to really capture her educational journey; learning about coffee, learning about Fair Trade, and talking with coffee farmers."

While working with Clarkson is the "latest chapter" in the company's efforts to educate consumers about Fair Trade, it is by no means the first. Green Mountain Coffee has been working to raise awareness of the benefits of Fair Trade ever since their coffee was certified by Fair Trade USA in 2000.
Since that time we have made a lot of effort to share the benefits of Fair Trade with our coffee-drinking audiences," explained Yusen. "So our campaign this year is not our first campaign, we've partnered with musicians in the past. But this is a really exciting year for us, we're thrilled to be able to work with Kelly and travel with her in Peru and have her experience the benefits of Fair Trade firsthand."

Her celebrity as a successful musician aside, Clarkson emulates the sort of people Green Mountain is working to reach in the Great Coffee, Good Vibes campaign. Her educational journey "really opened her eyes to Fair Trade in a very real way."
That's the same journey that many of our coffee lovers go through as well," Yusen said. "We knew she was a relatable person for our coffee drinkers that we could show that same learning process."

Clarkson's genuine style and approachability exceeded expectations. Bolger, who traveled with her in Peru, was impressed with Clarkson's ability to connect "in a very personal, authentic level across language, across culture."
I think it's her ability to engage so authentically and so genuinely that made her such a great spokesperson for us."

Partnerships for a resilient supply chain

Purchasing Fair Trade certified coffee insures a guaranteed fair minimum price for GMCR's network of coffee farmers, allowing growers a decent living for producing a top quality product. Consumers get a better cup of coffee and coffee farmers are given the opportunity for a better life; the ripple effects from Fair Trade premiums mean improved lives and communities. In 2012, coffee farmers earned nearly $32 million from Fair Trade to invest back into their families, farms and communities.
One of our core philosophies is that having a healthy supply chain is key to having a sustainable supply chain," explained Fair Trade Organic Coffee Buyer Ed Canty. "So our engagement, whether it's with Fair Trade or some of our other sourcing models, is really about long-term partnership and collaboration, and resolving issues in the supply chain together."

Canty praises the Fair Trade model, saying it "gets us very quickly to the meat and potatoes of business," insuring not only a fair price for producers, but guaranteed quality for consumers. "We know what the ask is. When we say we're looking for a Guatemalan coffee that scores an 84 SCAA range of coffee, we need to calibrate to make sure we all understand what that means."

Fair Trade is based on building long-term partnerships to build a more sustainable future for all involved. This model is the foundation of GMCR's comprehensive philosophy of building a resilient supply chain through partnership and engagement.

The Fair Trade model helps pave a path of resilience for its farmers. But its base of 7,000 suppliers spans a wide range of complex supply chains, including the manufacturer of its line of small appliances as well as raw ingredients for roasting coffee. GMCR understands that needs and social conditions widely differ between a coffee grower in Peru or Guatemala and a factory worker in urban China. Even when Fair Trade certification is not possible, GMCR extends the concept of partnership, establishing an engagement philosophy of "mutual learning and investment," built on decades of experience working within their supplier communities, both agricultural and industrial. GMCR also assists local communities with grants for projects ranging from food security, water stewardship, education and welfare.

A resilient supply chain is the key to producing quality products that satisfy consumers while creating sustainable, healthy communities around the world. Through Fair Trade, partnership and community engagement, GMCR is pushing the needle on sustainable business - economically, socially and environmentally.

But business is driven by consumer demand. Green Mountain Coffee's partnership with popular culture icons like Kelly Clarkson will hopefully make more bleary-eyed consumers share in Clarkson's educational path and choose Fair Trade coffee for their morning brew, pushing the model of Fair Trade into the mainstream of popular culture.

Just like American Idol.

Thomas Schueneman headshotThomas Schueneman

Tom is the founder, editor, and publisher of GlobalWarmingisReal.com and the TDS Environmental Media Network. He has been a contributor for Triple Pundit since 2007. Tom has also written for Slate, Earth911, the Pepsico Foundation, Cleantechnia, Planetsave, and many other sustainability-focused publications. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists

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