Can Fairtrade be Frugal?

We are in the middle of Fairtrade Fortnight which runs this year from 22nd February to the 7th March. I have to be honest and admit that while lately I have made a conscious decision to buy more local produce, I don’t regularly buy Fairtrade. It’s not that I don’t agree with the concept – I think it’s sound. It’s just that in practice, when I enter a supermarket, my shopping brain assumes that a Fairtrade product will automatically be more expensive.

But the Fairtrade Foundation is calling on people to get involved in an initiative called The Big Swap. They want consumers to switch items for Fairtrade ones during Fairtrade Fortnight and vote with their wallets for better treatment for workers in developing countries. So I visited my local supermarket this week to investigate the products and prices on offer.

Rightly or wrongly, when I think of Fairtrade I think of bananas and coffee. As a household we don’t tend to drink coffee regularly but we do purchase Fairtrade bananas. And there’s a reason why. When I went to look at the prices of the non-Fairtrade bananas to compare them with the Fairtrade ones, I couldn’t find any. Waitrose, our local supermarket wasn’t selling non-Fairtrade bananas. I’m not sure if this is because it’s Fairtrade week or if this is normally the case, but when I mentioned this to DJ (who is the banana buyer in our household) he said he rarely spotted any non-Fairtrade bananas in other supermarkets we go to, such as Asda, nowadays. The small bananas were 18.4p each or £1.29 for a bag (£2 for 2). That said, a non-Fairtrade pineapple from Costa Rica I found in the fruit and veg section was selling for £1.49 compared with £1.99 for a Fairtrade version from Ghana.

Never having looked at them before, I was knocked out by the sheer number of Fairtrade coffees on offer in the tea and coffee aisle. There were at least ten different varieties and I was surprised to find the prices pretty competitive too. We’re not big coffee drinkers but keep a jar of instant for visitors and a change now and again. DJ is a fan of Café Noire, so we normally get that. But at £3.12 for 100g, it was easily beaten on price by Clipper Fairtrade freeze-dried Arabica at £2.67, FFI Fair Instant at £2.50 and Percol Americano Fairtrade for £2.39 per 100g. Time to swap, I think! I also hadn’t realised that there is Fairtrade hot chocolate available. At £3.20 for 400g (80p per 100g) the Fairtrade Clipper instant hot choc is a cheaper buy than my usual Highlights jar which costs £3.10 for 220g (£1.41 per 100g).

DJ and I are fussy about our tea and drink a lot of it. Unfortunately there weren’t as many varieties of Fairtrade tea on offer as coffees, but I managed to find three – Café Direct¸ Good Earth and Clipper Fairtrade, which wasn’t bad. Prices varied. A ‘buy two packets of 160 teabags for £6.50’ deal for the Café Direct (normally £4.29 for one) meant that the price of 85.8p per 100g was very close to the price of our usual brand, Yorkshire Tea (hard water) which was selling for 85p for 100g. Clipper and Good Earth were more expensive, though, at 99.6p per 100g and £1.30 per 100g respectively.

Another surprise, while shopping for cereals, was Fairtrade muesli. I’d never spotted it before. Traidcraft muesli was selling for £1.99 for 500g (39.8p per 100g). OK, so it wasn’t the cheapest product on offer – Waitrose’s own brand sells for £1.35 for 750g (18p per 100g). But compared to Alpen at £2.99 for 650g (46p per 100g) and Swiss Style Whole Earth at £2.56 for 750g (34.1p for 100g) it wasn’t bad. I bought some and it’s very tasty.

All in all, my impression of Fairtrade trade products as expensive has been largely swept away by this exercise. There are still some products which are a bit pricy, but some of the beverage products are competitively priced as well as ethical, which I feel is important in the current climate. I will definitely be swapping some of my usual buys.

Would you swap your usual buys for Fairtrade alternatives? Do you think the prices are competitive or are you happy paying extra for your principles? Leave a message and let me know.

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8 Responses to Can Fairtrade be Frugal?

  1. Flo says:

    Fair trade and organic are not frugal but ethical Piper. It is not right to expect people to grow food for you and not be paid enough to live on. Ask why the dairy farmers are leaving the job in the UK and you will find that they are being paid less than it costs to produce. Therefore you need fair trade British milk to ensure that our own farmers are supported. An example on your own doorstep of the reason for fair trade. Likewise organic food is a lot more labour intensive to produce because chemicals are not involved. If this country ever finds itself back in the WW2 situation where chemicals were not available (couldn\’t be imported you see) or in the same situation as Cuba you will have to stop worrying about being frugal and worry about just getting food (oh and you might darned well have to stop being so flaming fussy about this, that and the other dear heart she says laughing). I challenge you to defend the supply of cheap food which is either damaging soil somewhere else on earth or is not paying the producer enough to look after his/her land. Proper food requires proper care of the soil and the environment. Proper food is expensive. Cheap food is a chemical brew more often than nutritious. There is a link – on Britain\’s disgusting food that I recommend you to watch. It makes for unpleasent watching even for those like myself who are country born and bred with some background in what goes on. This strikes me as the result of people going from frugal to cheap. There\’s knowing the price of everything and the cost of nothing as the film illustrates. Are you prepared to give up a few of the inessentials of life in order to support Fair trade and Organic? Does a life of choosy come more important than being ethical? Challenge thrown down Piper. I\’m trained to expect to be as organic as possible, as fair trade as possible and as frugal as possible by life. But I don\’t like frugal to cause me to pay others to starve so that I can eat.

  2. Bill says:

    Organic is oft a rip-off. So much Red Tape, so many inspectors & the relevant admin, it is all so expensive, & despite all this, much "organic" is a fake. Any retailer or wholesaler having access to genuine organic, can easily "dilute" this with the same measure of non-organic, all @ full organic price. Even the producer can "accidentally" mix the same measure of non-organic, with the genuine product.At the end of the day, it is all about hard cash.Any retailer, or wholesaler with access to Fair Trade can also "dilute" it with the same measure of normal produce. Almost impossible to police.I will not eat poultry, or eggs, of any description, unless I pick the eggs me\’sen, Free Range. I also pick & slaughter Free Range poultry. It is the only poultry I eat. Only so do I eat genuine Free Range. I do not trust wholesalers, retailers, or producers, after seeing them all at work from the inside. If they ever do get caught, they will always have an adequate excuse lined up. It is oft called an exit strategy, & they always set it up well in advance, before embarking on any risk.I do believe in Fair Trade, also genuine Free Range, & do my best to propagate & promote both. By sheer nature, they should both be extremely efficient, therefore economic & Green. Therefore, they should both be even cheaper than mass produced factory garbage.Genuine leather footwear, complete with leather soles & heels, is by far the best, but is far too expensive for most of us. They much prefer to burn top quality leather in the local landfill, which leaves so many skilled cobblers permanently unemployed. Meantime, we all suffer various health problems & other discomforts, purely from wearing the "affordable" cheap nylon garbage.Farmers are forced to burn first class wool, simply because we can not afford to buy the product, & therefore have ter buy the cheap imported nylon crap.

  3. Kerri says:

    I must admit I am not a big Fairtrade buyer myself, for pretty much the reason you were investigating Piper – cost. That said, I believe Sainsbury\’s own teas are fairtrade and me also being fussy about tea, their Red Label bags are more than acceptable. Again, like you said with bananas, in a lot of stores (Sainsburys again included) they only seem to have fairtrade ones on offer – though I have been buying fruit more reguarly at my local market which I am not sure are Fairtrade. The issue I have with Fairtrade is that I think it stops you thinking about what you are actually buying – is it better to spend more money at a huge supermarket for a Fairtrade pineapple, or support your local market stall seller by purchasing one that isn\’t? Some would say that we should purchase neither because of the carbon footprint but I watch a very interesting programme the other week on BBC1 called crop to shop where it looked at the farming and transportation of different fruit and veg. If it wasn\’t for us buying green beans grown in Africa, they villagers would have had no jobs and their childeren couldn\’t go to school. Also, I believe that not everything that isn\’t labelled Fairtrade means we\’re ripping off the growers and farmers. I think we need to strike a balance between buying local, supporting local sellers, supporting foreign sellers and regulating the topic of the moment the \’carbon footprint\’

  4. piper says:

    Hi Kerri. As usual you make some great points. Like you, I like to support my local green grocers and buy items there if I can. I think it\’s really important to keep them in business so that our high street isn\’t entirely taken over by huge sterile brands. And there is a real ethical dilemma between the carbon footprint issue of transporting these goods from overseas and the sheer fact that if we don\’t support workers in Africa etc. by buying their products, their economies will simply collapse. It will be tough if in the future there end up being restrictions on overseas trade to cut emissions. I don\’t know whether there will be, but I guess it\’s a possibility. As for whether you support your local trader or buy Fairtrade, it has to be an individual\’s choice.

  5. piper says:

    Flo – it\’s great that you can afford to buy in accordance with your principles. Not everybody can. The point of the piece was to see if Fairtrade products were affordable – a relevant question in the current climate. If they are then hopefully more people will buy them. As for organic – it\’s great in principle, but I\’d still rather eat the veg that DJ and I have grown in our own back garden if I can because I know where it\’s come from and it hasn\’t been transported for miles on end. Just because something is organic, it doesn\’t mean it has been transported from the other end of the country. For me, local produce is more important than organic.

  6. Bill says:

    35 years ago I spent some time, spasmodically working fers Sainsbury. My manager, his wife, the son who worked with him full time, or the managers brother who was assistant manager could not tell me where the nearest Sainsbury was. We all had a 10% staff discount card, but never found the shop. I was driving the entire country, bringing in raw materials from procurement officers in pin stripes. I was also delivering the end product to any slaughter house, as instructed by head office. I also visited Sainsbury own mills at the docks, fers bulk livestock feed. I had a caravan on site, provided by Sainsbury. I was simply a guest, every time I moved out, back ter me day job, some colleague of mine moved in.Meantime I have spasmodically driven fridges fer a large independent cold store, delivering to the entire Gateway supermarket Group nationwide. I have also delivered various end product to large tesco depots nationwide. After a 3 month course in a slaughter house I am a qualified abbatoir. I also have low level qualifications (NCA/NVQ 2) in agriculture, with the essential practical experience. I am also a qualified wholesale butcher (NVQ 2) after a 9 month course in a pie & sausage factory. I only do cutting, boning & rolling, with course Vacuum packing, mostly fers catering industry. I have no education/experience in processed meat, but have shared the canteen etc with these people, & supplied \’em with their raw materials. I also know fruit & veg, & have always helped me\’sen to free samples from farms, perks of the job. I also spent time on deep sea fish trawlers, with the odd night on the fish market, & know various freezer factories.Point is, the large international supermarkets, & the small local market traders all have financial problems (cash-flow) which grow worse by the hour, & I have seen the various stunts they all pull, in order to survive another day. I know one independent, old fashioned green grocer, with a prime location in a small town centre, who sells pre pack, tesco own brand, cake & biscuits well below tesco price. I assume he buys surplus stock off the Internet. My local tesco suddenly quit their local Brit lettuce supply, from the large depot, anywhere in UK @ £0.45p/head (Webs Wonder), fers the identical Webs Wonder from "USA", @ £0.95p/head. I question the airmiles/carbon footprint, I equaly question if they are printing the wrapping in UK, possibly even packing Brit lettuce in this "USA" wrapper. It could easilly be the same lettuce of the previous week, from Kent or E Anglia, in a new wrapping, simply ter justify the 100% price hike. Even tesco have extreme hard competition, not only from the local independent, but also from their own oversize International peers. They all fight fers survival, essentially there is a war on, sometimes the various opponents sit down togethr at the round table, but the general public must never know that the are scratching each others backs. Tesco sell 2 different bean cans, shoulder ter shoulder on the same shelf, we can choose twixt Heinz, @£0.45p, or the identical tesco own brand, also made & packed by Heinz, @ only £0.15p. These are both tesco prices, possibly both controlled by Heinz.Still yet not confused?Yer should be, they are doing their best ter that effect. Bull sh*t is always designed ter baffle brains.Tesco broke the BT monopoly on landlines. They purchase from BT wholesale, well below the BT retail, & retail at some profit, fers £11.50 retail, £1.00 below BT retail. BT have their reasons fer allowing this, another case of clandestine backscratching, methinks. Tesco do not sell the hardware, we purchase that from BT, they still yet have that monpoly. The landline we purchase from tesco will be supplied & fitted by BT, tesco have no engineering facilities or department, but purchase in bulk, wholesale, from BT.Whether we support our local small market trader, who possibly purchases surplus stock from the large Internationals, complete with horrendous airmiles, or whether we buy direct from the large Internationals, is our choice. It is basically impossible to tesearch the product, or airmiles successfully, we could simply toss a coin, in order to make an informed choice.The illiterate do not have this problem, but I simply advise \’em to tender the smallest posible coin or banknote fers purchase. I once lost £10 at tescos checkout, I could prove nothing. If yer need less than £10, never tender a £20. If yer need less than £5, never tender £10. It happens in small local shops every day, the illiterate are oft slightly confused, at least slightly ill, are easy to spot, therefore prime targets. Most "spectators" are far too shy/scared to stepforward & support \’em, they find it easier ter see, & hear, nout, & are no better than the 3 wise monkeys. I have a reputation fers stepping forward with a very a big mouth. I believe in true, Democratic Social Justice, at any price. Shopkeepers, as also their assistants, large & small, need us far more than we need them, we can always vote with our feet, even if we are thrown out first.I just wish it were that easy to control the banks & politicians.

  7. Flo says:

    Remember Piper that, like you, I grow a lot of my own and can therefore produce quite a bit of stuff which is 99% organic. The result is that I can afford to go the extra mile for Fair Trade and Organic. I\’m also very frugal indeedy in other directions so the money does actually go further than you would expect. No pets, no bad habits (moneywise anyway!! she says laughing), small abode, not a great socialiser – money can be persuaded to go a long way.

  8. Bill says:

    Flo, you Angel, . . . I agree with yer entirely, just wish I could set up a window box without being evicted. Fresh garlic & salad stuff, including carrots, parsnips, turnips, courgettes, peas & beans, also beetroot would be a start. Amazing what can be done with a small window box. I am not allowed a shower either. They are illegal in Sandwell MBC, also Birmingham City Council. Anyone caught fitting one will be evicted, with immediate effect.I do not drink, or smoke, & mostly am far more celibate than a Trappist Monk. I was forced ter give up all form of water & raquet sport, when I returned ter Blighty, 15 years ago. I am also banned from singing, dancing & playing any musical instrument in UK.Not fers much longer, brought me\’sen a cheap second hand des res last week. Single storey, freehold, fully detached, completely portable, 300 degree panoramic views, electric flush toilet, leccy/gas heating/hot water, free shower, leccy/gas fridge, large King size/2 singles, etc., etc. Just waiting fers gas/\’leccy certificate, & drawbar. Considering fitting solar panels on roof. I was offered 25 acre good pasture yesterday, freehold & remote, at only 1/3 -1/6 of market value. The same plot that I was gazumped on last spring, from the same agent!I would like ter give him a good, hard, smack, just cannot afford such a luxury.

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