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Big brands join Fairtrade push

UK retailer The Co-operative Food is set to sell a million cases of Fairtrade wine this year after overhauling its own label range and partnering with some major brands.

The Co-operative shows off its new branded offer and own label design in London this week

The company, which operates 2,800 stores across the UK and whose wines are also sold through a further 2,200 independent societies, has now developed Fairtrade ranges with brands including Arniston Bay and Namaqua.

As a result of this branded boost, The Co-operative’s Fairtrade wine buyer Edward Robinson told the drinks business: “Overall annual volumes of Fairtrade wine are going to hit one million nine-litre cases this year. Getting a few of these brands on board has really helped.”

However, he acknowledged the difficulty of persuading more mainstream brands to convert to Fairtrade, which carries extra costs both in terms of a minimum grape price per kilo and a licence fee to become accredited under the Fairtrade label.

“One of the problems is that Fairtrade doesn’t have the same gravitas in home markets as it does here,” Robinson remarked. “Trying to get people to jump through the hoops is quite a challenge.”

Nevertheless, he pointed to South Africa as being “way ahead” in embracing Fairtrade, with “far more growers and far more choice”, as demonstrated by The Co-operative’s initial branded partners.

Argentina is also another significant source of Fairtrade wine, featuring prominently in The Co-operative’s revamped own label range, whose new label design aims to highlight the origin and people behind these wines.

Robinson set the retailer’s expanding Fairtrade wine sales against the backdrop of wider growth for this category in the UK. “It’s heartening to see that the Fairtrade wine market as a whole is growing,” he commented, citing Fairtrade Foundation data that showed 25% growth in 2013, with final results for 2014 expected to be “lower but still double digit”.

At present, the retailer’s 26 Fairtrade listings – of which 15 are own label and the rest exclusive label or branded offerings – account for just over 10% of its total wine sales.

Simon Cairns, category manager for beers, wines and spirits at The Co-operative stressed this commitment as an important point of difference for the business in the UK’s highly competitive supermarket sector.

“Fairtrade is the reason that the majority of our customers will choose The Co-operative above and beyond our competitors,” he observed. “It’s really important that we’re the largest Fairtrade retailer in the UK; when it can be Fairtrade, it will be.”

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