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Ann Burton, CUBE Communications blog on Fairtrade Fortnight

Published:  19 March, 2010

As Fairtrade Fortnight 2010 drew to a close earlier this month, the Fairtrade Foundation hailed this year's push a resounding success. But why should UK consumers be choosing Fairtrade wine?

Since appearing on UK supermarket shelves for the first time in January 2004, Fairtrade wine has become one of the fastest growing categories of Fairtrade goods and the UK is now its biggest market. According to Fairtrade Foundation figures, 2009 saw UK Fairtrade sales increase by 12% to over £799million. Within this, UK Fairtrade wine sales generated £16.4million - a 64% increase on 2008.

Kate Lewis of the Fairtrade Foundation puts increased sales down to both social conscience and quality. "Fairtrade wine sales are continuing to grow as consumers and the trade recognise that not only do Fairtrade wines offer the producers a fair and sustainable price for their grapes, but that there are also some excellent Fairtrade wines available" she said.

The Fairtrade Foundation is an independent non-profit organisation that supports the most disadvantaged producers in the world by using trade as a tool for sustainable development. It licenses the use of the Fairtrade mark on products and by buying Fairtrade products, UK consumers contribute directly towards the social development of producers and farm workers.

The main goal of Fairtrade wine production is to achieve quality rather than quantity and by guaranteeing a minimum price for the grapes, farmers are able to focus on producing a quality crop rather than maximizing yields. Farming in this more controlled manner not only reduces the amount of intensive farming, but also ensures a sustainable future for the producer.

Speak to any Fairtrade wine producer and they are keen to reinforce this quality message and stress that they are not looking for charity. They want their commodity to be judged on its own merits rather than its certification and examples of brands that are championing this approach include Equality, Thandi and Fairhills.

Since its launch in 2006 Equality has earned some impressive awards, including a gold medal in the International Wine Challenge. Its founder Nicholas Ingham can understand why Fairtrade quality is so important for consumers. "It's quite simple - you don't have to change your shopping habits - just enjoy a bottle of great wine and know that you are making a difference to the producers and their communities," he said.

This philosophy conflicts with many consumer surveys that focus on the need to pay a premium for a Fairtrade wine, regardless of its quality. Wine Intelligence research has shown 72% of consumers who were aware of Fairtrade wine said they would be prepared to pay an extra 50p for a wine made by Fairtrade producers; 45% said they would pay an extra £1 or more.

This perceived higher RRP for Fairtrade wines is however a misconception, with many Fairtrade wines starting from as little as six pounds within the major supermarkets. The Co-operative stocks the widest range of Fairtrade wines, with other retailers intending to expand their ranges in 2010.

Tesco currently stocks Fairtrade wines from South Africa, Argentina and Chile, and has plans to expand its Fairtrade listings in 2010. "It is great to see the way Fairtrade wines have developed and improved over the last few years. We have expanded our range over the last year, and will continue to support it as an area of interest for our customers. " said Graham Nash, Tesco wine buyer for South Africa.

Whilst it is commendable news that Fairtrade wine sales are seeing astronomical growth year-on-year and achieving new listings; if the industry doesn't do more to promote the rising quality credentials to UK consumers who are driving this growth, the sector's growth will stall in the long term. Only by enthusing shoppers to buy the product on it quality rather than its financial background, can Fairtrade make a credible, sustainable impact on developing countries' wine production for future generations.