In conversation with Amy Collis, Tea Supply Chain Manager -Fairtrade Foundation (FTUK)
Q.Could you tell us about the role of NFO in the Market front? Are they in a position to influence brands to source tea from specific regions?
A.The UK is the largest market for Fairtrade tea, and we work with most of the large brands, retailers and packers selling in the UK to source Fairtrade tea from across the globe. Several of our commercial partners have made Fairtrade commitments, including M&S (100% Fairtrade certified own-brand tea since 2006 – and who are now extending this commitment to the tea sold in their in-store Cafes), Co-op (100% Fairtrade sourcing for their own brand tea since 2008) and Waitrose (100% own-brand tea since 2017). We also work with Clipper, the world’s largest Fairtrade tea brand. Most of the UK retailers (M&S, Co-op, Sainsbury’s, Aldi and Lidl) have Fairtrade certified tea ranges and our Commercial Partnerships team are working with them to find opportunities to increase their Fairtrade sourcing. We help our customers identify sustainable sourcing options and can advise them of the different opportunities and challenges in different regions, however, most of our customers have strong relationships with their packers and tea suppliers – who, in turn, have excellent knowledge of the different geographical profiles and qualities in the teas they are looking for
Q.How is the current market situation for Fairtrade teas especially with other ‘Sustainability labels’ increasing their market share?
A.Only about 4% of the tea sold in the UK is sold as Fairtrade. Globally, there has been a decline in sales of black tea as consumers appear to be favoring herbal infusions and other varieties of tea. There are many other certification labels now on the market, and this can make it hard for customers to understand the differences in what those labels mean. However, the FAIRTRADE Mark is one of the most well-known and trusted (with 90% consumer recognition and 80% of people saying they trust the FAIRTRADE Mark (latest Kantar Research, 2019 Q3)). Sales of Fairtrade tea have remained stable, despite market-wide declines, showing that consumers continue to choose Fairtrade. In recent market research, 65% of customers also said they thought that there should be more Fairtrade tea available in stores, so there is certainly further room for growth.
Q.What is the average sales of Fairtrade tea (in volumes) / per year in UK? Do you foresee any growth in demand for FT tea from Asia in the coming years? What are the challenges?
A. On average, around 5,000 – 7,000 MT of Fairtrade tea is sold in the UK each year. Many of our customers source from Asian producer groups, for both their blended and specialty teas and this is likely to continue. However, the landscape for tea production is very challenging, particularly in North East India, with increasing costs of production and changing demands, as well as many long-standing sector-wide issues. We are currently working to strengthen our Standards through our Tea Standard and Pricing Review, with a particular focus on forced labour, gender equality, women’s empowerment, wages and on improving workers’ housing and labour conditions. We are also undertaking research to understand the situation of workers in North East India and hope to use this to shape our strategy and engage our partners to deliver more impact for producers working with Fairtrade tea. We also need to continue to promote Fairtrade tea and ensure consumers understand the value of Fairtrade and the impact that we have for producer groups through our Standards, the Fairtrade Minimum Price and the Fairtrade Premium.
Q.There are many certification and sustainable labels on the market. With Sainsbury’s choosing to source more of their tea under their own “Fairly Traded” pilot and other certifications and in-house labels appearing in the market, how can we improve positioning of Fairtrade tea in the market as compared to other sustainable products?
A.Sainsbury’s continue to be the largest retailer of Fairtrade products and we continue to work with them towards their sustainability objectives. Further, the 100% Fairtrade commitments made by several of our retailers demonstrates that Fairtrade continues to hold a preferential position in the market and amongst endconsumers. I think we must continue to work with our existing partners to increase their Fairtrade tea sourcing and, at the same time, look to engage new partners and new market segments. We must also work to engage our customers and campaigners and ensure that they
continue to support Fairtrade and demonstrate their support through choosing Fairtrade products when they shop.
Q.Can you highlight few brands who are majorly sourcing Fairtrade tea from Asia? What are their interest and expectation before building a supply chain partnership with any trader or producer?
A.Clipper source the Fairtrade tea for their Organic English Breakfast blend from Assam and Ceylon– they source from 8 partner gardens in Assam and share the list on their website (https://www.clipper-teas.com/teatalk/what-is-assam-tea/). Similarly, Waitrose source many Fairtrade teas from across India – including from Darjeeling, Assam and from Sri Lanka. Retailers and traders are looking for good quality and consistent supply. Most of our retailers have worked closely with the traders for many years and, in turn, the traders have worked with us and with the producer groups, so this enables them to have good visibility and understanding of their supply chains.
Q.What are the Fairtrade Awareness initiatives adopted by Fairtrade UK for increasing visibility and market presence of FT tea in your region? What are the main factors that influence the purchasing power of the end consumers?
A.Fairtrade tea continues to be well recognized in the UK and several of our customers are proactive in their promotion of Fairtrade which helps to retain our profile. This year we are celebrating 25 years of Fairtrade – one of our first brand partners was Clipper – so we have some great promotional materials and on-pack messaging which will be in store in October! We are also hosting a big event for our key partners and customers to think about what we have achieved over the past 25 years, and to think about what more we can do in the next 25. Our social and media teams also regularly post content about different Fairtrade commodities and feature different brands, so this helps to raise awareness and attract new customers. Price is a factor for consumers, and the market is competitive with other sustainability labels presenting consumers with more choices. However, I believe customers do appreciate the added value that Fairtrade tea offers and that’s why they continue to choose it.
Q.How can our tea producers improve their visibility in the Global Market? Is there a potential for FT UK to facilitate POs meet market requirements?
A.We can work with NAPP to help identify market needs and requirements and I hope that we can use our close relationship with retailers and traders to facilitate long term relationships with producers. We try to proactively connect our retailers with producer groups through joint trips, so that we can demonstrate the impact of Fairtrade through the work done by the NAPP (and our other Producer Networks) and through projects funded by the Fairtrade Premium.
Q.Can you give us a short brief us on the Tea Business Plans & Priorities for 2019? How can NAPP provide support in alignment with the plan?
A.Our strategy for next year is to protect and grow our existing Fairtrade tea volumes by working with several of our existing partners, and by engaging some new customers. We will also be progressing our project work. Firstly, we will be engaging our stakeholders in the second round of the Tea Standard and Pricing Review consultation and will support them through the subsequent implementation of the new Standard requirements. Secondly, we will be progressing our research in North East India so that we can better understand what opportunities there might be to drive positive change in the tea sector for tea workers. We hope that this research will give us a platform to look for partnerships and collaborations that would enable us to take this further.