Fairtrade Fortnight - Bit Lukewarm Actually. Here's Why...

Any minute now we should all expect a tap with the “worthy” stick as retailers try to persuade us to buy Fairtrade.  Many of us will respond and pay the extra for what are, as far as anyone can tell, the same bananas/coffee/chocolate (delete as appropriate) we bought last week with the exception of the comforting blue & green logo on them.  But hey! That’s fine because someone at the other end of the line should be getting a fair deal, right?  Not according to one of our suppliers who, when exploring the idea of a range of Fairtrade wines with a major supermarket was told that whilst this was an idea they would love to take further, they weren’t prepared to pay any more for the wines.  Really?  Isn’t that the point?  Shouldn’t those of us who can afford to do so be prepared to pay a bit more for the reassurance of a better deal for the chaps at the other end?  This particular major retailer was not in the least concerned about these effects, it simply wished to bask in the glory of being perceived to be Doing The Right Thing. 

How many will be offering discounts on Fairtrade products during Fairtrade Fortnight, and who do you suppose is supporting these offers? Cutting prices on these products just at the point that’s supposed to increase sales is at best counterproductive; hypocritical at worst.

Please don’t get us wrong here though.  We are not against Fairtrade (and other similar schemes) in principle.  We just don’t like the fact that a well-intentioned scheme has been hijacked and used as a marketing tool.  There are a lot of front-end costs too which make us wonder just how much of the good that could be done gets siphoned off in bureaucracy.

Surely the idea is not to attract the bargain hunters with special offers just for two weeks of the year but rather to encourage people to switch permanently to lines which deliver a better deal for the producers?  Sorry, but you don’t achieve that with discounts.  All you do is attract the “price-is-all-that-matters” consumers who’ll be chasing the next deal in 2 weeks time and the golden opportunity for long term benefit will be lost.

There is only one thing that will clinch long-term support for Fairtrade lines and that’s delivering quality products at affordable prices (actually that may be two things so to get round that we’ll call it “value for money”).  This is where it all starts to fall down as far as the vast majority of Fairtrade wines are concerned because frequently the people in most need of help are working the poorest plots of land so you’re not starting with good quality raw material – silk purse, sow’s ear etc.

Oh we’ve tried plenty of Fairtrade wines certainly, but it strikes us that the reason people buy them is because of the badge and not because they’re any good (the supermarket tale above certainly suggests that’s what they think anyway) and that’s putting the cart before the horse.  Frankly, the wines themselves need to be better, both better made and more exciting.  It’s no use trotting out yet another predictable South African Chenin Blanc or Chilean Merlot which people will simply find “acceptable”.  There has to be a reason to keep buying these wines beyond the call of the badge.  You don’t drink the badge after all.

If you’re minded to try wines such as these during the dedicated two week period we would point you to the Santa Digna (Gewurztraminer and Cab.Sauv.Rose) wines by Miguel Torres and the Coyam and Novas reds by Emiliana.  They carry the Fair For Life badge as opposed to the Fairtrade one but they were good wines first and happen also to subsequently deliver a good deal for the people who grow the grapes.  These wines do appear on offer occasionally, though not at the demand of the retailer.  More importantly, they are all good enough for us to recommend them for 52 weeks of the year and not just two.

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