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Research : Is Fairtrade Fortnight being unfair on Fairtrade? / Lucy Hoang, Northstar Research Partners

Lucy Hoang, Research Manager, Northstar Research Partners

Fairtrade Fortnight began on 23rd February and is coming to an end this week but did anyone even notice? How did the movement emerge from its annual 14 day awareness event without making much noise? In fact, last week, it was revealed that Fairtrade goods fell almost 4% for the first time since the ethical trading scheme was founded 20 years ago.

It is therefore even more essential that the campaign works to keep the movement alive and vocal.

To coincide with Fairtrade Fortnight, Northstar conducted a UK poll to examine current attitudes towards @FairtradeUK . We reveal some barriers to uptake and suggest some ways the Fairtrade brand can be given a rebirth 20 years on.

Does Fairtrade need more of an identity?

When prompted to tell us what what they know about Fairtrade, fairer pay, better working conditions, combatting the effects of Western supermarkets and helping third world countries were the key spontaneous associations.

Whilst consumers are aware of what Fairtrade does, there is little tangible information held about Fairtrade’s organisational identity. People know that Fairtrade was born out of an ethical responsibility but, ironically, it may need to work harder to build a complete narrative and personality around the brand. People need to fully embrace who and what Fairtrade is. In doing so this will reinforce the goodwill of the scheme en masse.

Fairtrade has to compete with an array of consumer priorities in the purchase process

When questioned on the importance of traceability (knowing where a product came from and how it was made) only 43% stated it was of high importance or absolutely critical to their purchase decisions. 87% feel quality and 80% feel price is of high importance or absolutely critical.

When asked specifically about other social issues, 53% feel labour conditions is of high importance or absolutely critical to their decisions. However, animal welfare (69%) and the use of additives/preservatives (67%) are of higher importance.

As consumers prioritise certain social issues over others, the Fairtrade badge appears to have less prevalence amongst a plethora of other messages. People may be aware and recognise the work that Fairtrade does, but it needs to work harder to get shoppers to actually take action and fully back the cause.

The perceived ‘cost of caring’ for Fairtrade

Encouragingly, consumers do not feel they are compromising on quality if opting for Fairtrade products – 55% feel that Fairtrade products are of ‘good quality’ compared with 33% feeling the same towards non-Fairtrade products. However, 44% consider Fairtrade products ‘expensive,’ compared with only 9% feeling the same about non-Fairtrade products. There is a clearly a perceived ‘cost of caring’ for Fairtrade. In order for consumers to prioritise the ethical issue and swallow the price differential they need to have a real perceived incentive to change – the ‘tipping point’ needs to be made clear-cut and reinforced continually. Fairtrade’s core ethos needs to be clearly communicated. Fairtrade fortnight needs to make more of an impact and lead the way.

Moving Forward for Fairtrade

There’s no arguing that Fairtrade represents something that is ethically responsible. However, the movement needs to better market its relevance, build on its strengths and push forward, fully utilising Fairtrade fortnight as a platform to gain wider reach and saliency. With this in mind, Northstar recommends the following:

1)      Fairtrade needs to build a more clear and compelling narrative around the cause. The website presents a case of why we should support the Fairtrade movement and make better product choices. Perfectly portrayed in two moving and visually stunning videos – the campaign puts the ‘real life’ in Fairtrade, depicting the true meaning behind Fairtrade. But, this is largely contained within the website and this in itself presents a problem – I was already aware and that’s why I logged on.

2) Fairtrade – the ethical body – needs to work harder to assert its personality and recreate a tangible organisational identity. This will help reinforce the authenticity of the narrative and enforce the importance of Fairtrade, particularly for those who hold partial information about the cause or who are not fully on board.

3) Fairtrade needs to acknowledge other ethical issues that consumers prioritise. By embedding the social issue into the mainstream with a clear-cut narrative of ‘why,’ consumers will be presented with difficult to ignore, valid reasons to care about Fairtrade, just as much as they may do for animal welfare and products free from artificial ingredients.

4) Fairtrade needs to make headlines. Fairtrade is a cause that deservedly needs more media attention. A simple but effective way to immediately make an impact is to start with social media. Ambassadors and supporters can help spread the message through video/image/text and allow the brand and its narrative to be dispersed quickly on a global scale.

The existence of Fairtrade and its Fortnight is a great success, but 20 years on Fairtrade needs to re-embed itself as a social issue to care about. Fairtrade needs to be at the heart of media conversations and actively shout its message of “fair and square”, even louder.

Lucy Hoang, Research Manager, Northstar Research Partners