With a clear conscience through the supermarket – fair trade has grown significantly in recent years. However, high prices are putting customers’ beliefs to the test.

Cocoa, coffee, bananas – supermarket customers are finding fair trade seals on more and more products. Spend a little more so that small farmers in the southern hemisphere, for example, have a better income – this idea convinces a small but growing proportion of buyers.

Corona was only able to slow down the boom briefly – growth returned in 2021. But now high inflation may choke off the trend again. A look into the wallet could set limits to international solidarity on the supermarket shelf.

What does fair trade mean?

Trade grants long-term prices at which producers can cover their costs and invest. Small farmers often join together to form cooperatives and sell their produce at guaranteed prices. Fair trade goods are therefore often more expensive than the rest of the range in the supermarket. The price often also includes a social bonus, which can be used to build schools, for example.

Why is there the offer?

“A living income is a human right,” emphasizes the Forum Fairer Handel. However, nobody in the industry claims that buying a pound of coffee will solve all the problems of smallholders. Among other things, she is also committed to a strong EU supply chain law.

How common are fair trade goods?

In the beginning, fair goods were only available in world shops or action groups. Supermarkets and discounters have been driving growth for several years. There are several seals. However, fair goods remain a niche product with a retail turnover of around two billion euros. Mathematically, every German citizen spent 23.50 euros on it in 2021. That’s how far the organic segment was in 2000, today sales there are eight times as high.

What is bought?

Coffee and tropical fruits in particular are often sold with fair trade seals. According to the Forum Fairer Handel, a good six out of every 100 cups of coffee drunk in Germany are fair trade. Textiles and flowers are also among the major revenue generators, and chocolate has grown strongly. The fact that fair is always more expensive than conventional is a myth for the Fairtrade seal provider. On the supermarket shelf there is often hardly any difference to other branded products.

How stable is the trend?

For years things only went up until cafés, canteens and world shops closed temporarily during the Corona crisis. After a minus in 2020, sales rose again last year by around seven percent to around 1.95 billion euros, as the forum announced on Wednesday in Berlin. “The downswing caused by the pandemic has stopped,” said Managing Director Matthias Fiedler. Fairtrade, by far the largest seal provider, also posted a strong increase of nine percent to 2.1 billion euros. This also includes items where individual raw materials come from fair trade.

Will inflation end the boom?

A damper seems likely. Sustainability and value-added products are coming under pressure, as the German Retail Association has observed. This mainly affects organic products, but also regional and fair trade ranges. Many consumers are no longer willing to pay higher prices for such goods. In a survey conducted by the price comparison platform Idelao, 83 percent of those surveyed stated that they now prefer to buy cheaper products.

The fair sector relies on the fact that there are many quite wealthy “convict consumers” among its regular customers. Nevertheless, a difficult year is expected. Fiedler says: “If you get a zero, that’s a good result.”