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Mary Mazzoni headshot

3p Weekend: 10 Food Companies Going Fair Trade

By Mary Mazzoni

With a busy week behind you and the weekend within reach, there’s no shame in taking things a bit easy on Friday afternoon. With this in mind, every Friday TriplePundit will give you a fun, easy read on a topic you care about. So, take a break from those endless email threads, and spend five minutes catching up on the latest trends in sustainability and business.

In response to growing consumer demand, food companies around the world are becoming more transparent about their ingredients and supply chains. There's surely no shortage of food labels and third-party certifications for them to tap along the way. Since October is Fair Trade Month, this week we tip our hats to major food and grocery companies making a shift to ethical sourcing. Did your favorite brand make the list?

1. Marks and Spencer

Marks & Spencer launched its Plan A policy back in 2007. The 100-point plan helped transform the company’s supply chain and operations -- including even more ethical sourcing.

In 2014, the U.K. grocer released an encouraging progress update on its 2020 Plan A goals: Over 60 percent of the products sold in M&S stores had some type of sustainability attribute. This includes fair trade, organic, free-range, cruelty-free, low alcohol, responsible supply chain, recycled, or made in a factory where workers and the environment are respected, according to the company.

On the fair trade front, the company is leading even more: M&S was the first major retailer to switch all of its tea and coffee to fair trade back in 2006. It also sells fair trade wine, chocolate and flowers.

2. Kashi

Earlier this year, Kellogg subsidiary Kashi — known best for cereals and snack bars — made waves for its choice to establish a transitional organic label. It takes three years to earn the coveted organic certification, during which time farmers spend money to change their practices without getting a higher premium for their products.

In partnership with Quality Assurance International (QAI) and Hesco, Kashi's Certified Transitional label seeks to bridge the gap. In July, Kashi released its first product containing Certified Transitional ingredients — a sweet breakfast cereal fittingly called Dark Cocoa Karma Shredded Wheat Biscuits.

The whole wheat cereal is also one of the company's first products to contain cocoa certified by Fair Trade USA. Kashi first began selling Fair Trade Certified products last year, and now a variety of its cereals and snack bars bear the label.

3. Honest Tea

Okay, so this company isn't exactly going fair trade -- it's already there. It was the first company to market Fair Trade Certified bottled tea. But its commitment to translating increased revenues into more fair trade purchases should surely be commended.

Some were wary when Coca-Cola purchased the company in 2011, but Honest Tea remains an independent operating unit within the beverage behemoth. Thanks to higher distribution, the company grew by an enviable 30 percent between 2011 and 2015. It was able to purchase more organic products — 6.7 million pounds in 2014 — and ramp up its commitment to fair trade. Fair trade premiums paid by Honest Tea now total over $200,000 annually.

4. Ben & Jerry's

When it comes to leaders in fair trade, look no further than Ben & Jerry's. The beloved brand became the first ice cream maker to use fair trade ingredients back in 2005. In 2010, it decided to go entirely fair trade -- across all flavors and in all markets.

In partnership with Fair Trade International, the company ensured "every possible ingredient" was Fair Trade Certified by 2011 in Europe. It did the same in the U.S. in 2014. Last year, Ben & Jerry's paid almost $2 million in social premiums to farmers producing its five fair trade ingredients: sugar, cocoa, vanilla, coffee and bananas.

5. Keurig Green Mountain

No matter how you feel about those single-use coffee pods, it's encouraging to know that Keurig Green Mountain is making steps toward more ethical sourcing.

Green Mountain Coffee Roasters began to source fair trade coffee in 2000, six years before it purchased a 65 percent stake in Keurig for a reported $104.3 million. In 2010, it was named the world's largest purchaser of fair trade coffee, and the company continues to work with Fair Trade USA on ethical coffee pilots around the world.

6. Starbucks

Starbucks is no stranger to the fair trade game. The coffee chain committed to sourcing its coffee ethically back in 2008. This includes adhering to its internal C.A.F.E. (Coffee and Farmer Equity) Practices, developed in collaboration with Conservation International, as well as fair trade standards.

All of its practices are audited by third parties. And by 2014, 96 percent of Starbucks coffee passed the C.A.F.E. and fair trade muster. Last year, the company sourced 100 percent of its coffee ethically.

7. Whole Foods

It's probably no surprise to see Whole Foods Market on this list. But in addition to stocking a bevy of fair trade products from other labels, the renowned natural grocer is also sourcing more ethical ingredients for its private label, 365 Everyday Value. The company partners with Fair Trade USA to certify ingredients such as cocoa and sugar.

8. Chick-fil-A

At the 2015 Sustainable Brands conference in San Diego, sustainability professionals were introduced to Thrive Coffee -- a coffee brand that returns as much as 75 percent of revenues directly to farmers.

As 3p's Jen Boynton noted last year, Thrive's first major partner -- Chick-fil-A -- came as a bit of a surprise to those familiar with the firm’s stance on gay marriage. But a year later and the partnership is still going strong. Chick-fil-A touts its Thrive brews as 'coffee with a story,' and the collaboration allowed Thrive to significantly expand its reach -- meaning more work and more wages for coffee farmers in Latin America.

9. Safeway

Last year, Safeway and Fair Trade USA linked up to bring Fair Trade Certified seafood to North America. The grocery chain first offered fair trade yellowfin tuna to shoppers in the American Northwest. And Safeway ultimately hopes to ensure sustainable sourcing for all fresh and frozen seafood. It's now working with the California nonprofit FishWise to assess its entire seafood supply chain.

10. Nutiva

Known for its hempseed and coconut oil products (and its organic version of a Nutella-esque hazelnut spread), Nutiva is making strides toward fair trade purchasing. Its red palm products are certified by Fair for Life. And it began certifying some of its coconut oil products with Fair Trade USA in 2014.

Image credit: Honest Tea

Mary Mazzoni headshot

Mary has reported on sustainability and social impact for over a decade and now serves as executive editor of TriplePundit. She is also the general manager of TriplePundit's Brand Studio, which has worked with dozens of organizations on sustainability storytelling, and VP of content for TriplePundit's parent company 3BL. 

Read more stories by Mary Mazzoni