Fair Trade founder heralds the rise of the conscious consumer
The age of the conscious consumer has arrived, much to the delight of Fair Trade USA founder and CEO Paul Rice.
The keynote speaker at this year’s SeaWeb Seafood Summit – taking place in Bangkok, Thailand, from 10 to 14 June – Rice shared some promising news about modern consumer behavior with conference attendees, all of whom have a vested interest in the sustainable seafood movement.
“Consumers are changing the world,” he said. “Their purchasing decisions are both luring more companies into the sustainability space and rewarding those companies that do.”
Shoppers are increasingly opening up their minds and wallets to seafood that appeals to their growing sustainability sensibilities, Rice explained, referencing an impressive leap in sales experienced by one of the certifier’s seafood partners after the supplier introduced Fair Trade scallops to its portfolio.
“One of the companies that we work with in our sustainability program had scallop sales of 3 percent year-over-year growth – they introduced Fair Trade scallops and their sales growth on the scallop line jumped to 38 percent,” Rice said. “Now that’s an extraordinary and probably unusual sales bump as a result of adding the Fair Trade label, but it illustrates the point, which is regardless of what certification it is or what sustainability attribute we add to products, consumers are hungry to reward companies that are doing the right thing and are looking for products that speak to their values.”
“That’s an incredible market opportunity. I would argue that it’s, in some ways, one of the most exciting phenomena in society today,” he added.
Rice founded Fair Trade USA – North America’s leading third-party certifier of Fair Trade products – in 1998 after graduating from Yale University with a degree in economics. At the time of his organization’s founding, Rice had recently returned from Nicaragua after spending 11 years leading a Fair Trade coffee export cooperative with local farmers. Today, recognition and awareness of the Fair Trade-certified seal has reached 60 percent among U.S. consumers, and continues to grow with increased on-shelf visibility, Rice said.
Since its founding, Fair Trade USA has been able to develop a leading market-based model for sustainable production, trade, and consumption applicable to several industries, including seafood as of 2014. The organization has generated over USD 550 million (EUR 487.4 million) in additional income for farmers and workers in more than 70 countries over the course of two decades. In 2017, U.S. consumers purchased an estimated USD 7 billion (EUR 6.1 billion) in Fair Trade Certified products from household names including Patagonia, West Elm, Gap Inc., Green Mountain, Starbucks, Dole, General Mills, PepsiCo, Whole Foods, Costco, Target, Walmart, and more.
Seafood products with Fair Trade certification include Indonesian yellowfin tuna, Mexican blue shrimp, Maldivian skipjack tuna, Alaskan salmon, scallops from New England, and – as of 6 June – mahi, swordfish, and yellowfin and bigeye tuna from Afritex Ventures, which has operations in Mozambique, Africa.
The Mauritius-headquartered Afritex Ventures was certified by Fair Trade USA according to the Capture Fisheries Standard (CFS). It is a welcome addition to the Fair Trade family, said Julie Kuchepatov, the certifier’s seafood director.
“We welcome Afritex Ventures to the Fair Trade family of certified suppliers as they expand their commitment to sustainability and bring the benefits of Fair Trade certification to the fishermen and processing workers who are an integral part of their success" Kuchepatov said. “We are excited to see how the fishermen will invest their CDP funds in their communities and the ultimate impact these funds will generate.”
“We are exceptionally proud of our Mozambique-based team and to be the first company globally to offer Fair Trade Certified mahi mahi and swordfish,” added David Diamond, executive chairman of Afritex. “Our tuna will complement existing Fair Trade Certified tuna products and broaden awareness of the principles of Fair Trade. We are privileged to have launched five Margaritaville-branded items – (incorporating all three species) in the United States with sustainability conscious retailers such as Safeway and Giant Eagle and will be extending our market reach over the coming months.”
Margaritaville Foods President Tom Keane said his company looks forward to launching Afritex’s Fair Trade-approved product line.
“We are thrilled to be partnering with Afritex Ventures on this new line of premium ahi mahi, tuna, and swordfish,” Keane said. “We believe that these Fair Trade products deliver bold and unique island inspired flavors, ease of preparation, and premium quality to our loyal Margaritaville consumers. We look forward to working in partnership with the Afritex team to grow this exciting new product line.”
Over 5,000 fishermen and workers have engaged in the Fair Trade’s CFS since the standard was incepted. Cumulatively, fishermen in the program have earned an additional USD 1.25 million (EUR 1.1 million) in Community Development Premium (CDP) funds, plus the price paid for their catch for product sold on Fair Trade terms, the certifier said. These funds are spent on projects for the good of fisheries and communities, according to Fair Trade.