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Marketers Eye Fair Trade Certified As the New 'Green'

Organic has been around for about 15 years, and "green" marketing is so last month. So marketers looking for the next socially responsible effort are flocking to the Fair Trade Certified category, whose products are getting more shelf space nationwide.

So far this year, 284 Fair Trade Certified products-typically coffee, tea, herbs, cocoa and chocolate, fruit, sugar, rice, spices and even cut flowers-were launched in the U.S. compared with 130 last year and 17 in 2003, according Mintel, Chicago.

The designation, which is handled exclusively in the U.S. by TransFair USA, Oakland, Calif., means that farmers in such locations as Ghana or Costa Rica work in safe labor conditions, use environmentally friendly practices and are paid at least a minimum floor price for their crop. These family farmers may also belong to a co-op that democratically decides how to invest their profits in building schools, health clinics or developing better business and sustainability practices.

Products with such designations are seen as niche, such as Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Heath Bar Crunch ice cream or Hershey's Dogoba organic chocolate bar. But the Fair Trade Certified category appears to be trekking the same path that organic foods took before bursting into mainstream grocery stores. In April, Wal-Mart began to stock six Sam's Choice Fair Trade Certified gourmet coffees. In May, the Wyndham Hotels and Resorts chain introduced Fair Trade Certified Starbucks coffees in hotel restaurants, cafes, bars and via room service. This month, eBay launched, an e-marketplace offering one-stop shopping for products that have been certified by TransFair, as well as from such groups as Co-op America and Aid to Artisans. 

Retail sales of Fair Trade Certified coffee alone grew tenfold between 2001 and 2006 to $730 million, according to TransFair USA, which received a significant boost when Wal-Mart added the coffee SKUs to its shelves.

"Every small coffee roaster in Bareto or Santa Cruz is important to us, but the reality is a big retailer is like a faucet," said Anthony Marek, spokesman at TransFair USA. "And if you're a drip, that faucet can help tens of thousands of farmers across the world." In October, which will be the fifth annual Fair Trade Month as designated by TransFair USA, wine will be eligible for certification. And that will give more fodder for such mass merchandisers as Wal-Mart, Sam's Club and Target to add to their current inventory of Fair Trade Certified SKUs.

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