Unlike the high-street trade, the hospitality sector seems loath to promote its involvement in the Fairtrade movement, with some venues rarely doing more than putting a discreet "we use Fairtrade" at the bottom of a menu. Diane Lane reports
The hospitality trade rates a moderate report for its work so far with Fairtrade products - "could do better". And the opportunity to do better is just around the corner, with Fairtrade Fortnight running from 22 February to 7 March.
The industry's apparent lack of Fairtrade involvement is not a matter of social conscience, it is one of marketing, because the majority of caterers who support the Fairtrade movement simply do not promote it.
This is partly because higher-end hotels and restaurants think that shouting about one's ethics at point of service is not the right thing to do, and partly because Fairtrade's own publicity material is always targeted at high-street retail - what the beverage trade calls "grinning kids", the typical images of farming families, just do not suit Park Lane tea lounges.
As a result, venues that support the movement rarely do more than put a discreet "we use Fairtrade" at the bottom of a menu and that, says the Fairtrade Foundation, is just too understated, and does neither the catering trade or the movement any good.
"It's a very interesting problem," acknowledges Richard Anstead, head of business development at the foundation. "Every year, we produce posters for the high-street trade - but I'd be surprised to see them in an upmarket hotel. The hospitality sector remains a challenge for us."
However, he says, as more Fairtrade-certified products become available, opportunities for "acceptable" ethical messages are increasing. "Fairtrade cut flowers are a very strong growth area. They come from Africa, and studies say their carbon footprint is six times less than importing flowers from Northern Europe. I have now seen a hotel chain use Fairtrade flower bouquets, with a very simple card saying so, and no picture of a smiling farmer.
"Bedroom cosmetics are a new area, and for a ‘pampering' hotel, this will be a very exciting development. Fairtrade cotton is now in its fifth year, and towels, bed linen and uniforms already exist. A discreet Fairtrade Mark on the bottom of a waiter's apron makes a very big point."
There is more to making that point than meets the eye, says the Fairtrade Foundation. For the hospitality trade, it is the acceptance that being seen to work with Fairtrade is good for business. And yet even activist Bruce Crowther, the man behind the world's first Fairtrade town at Garstang, Lancashire, says he continues to have trouble persuading the local trade that promoting Fairtrade is "proper".
"The Co-op told me that when it went to Fairtrade chocolate, it outsold what had been its bestseller by four to one. And then the Slug and Lettuce chain of pubs changed to Fairtrade coffee after one local manager said ‘customers always have a second cup'.
"This is what we say to all hotels and restaurants - if the big boys see good business in promoting Fairtrade, then so should you.
"It should be a piece of cake. Every decent restaurant will tell you the name of the local farm that their beef comes from, and they will write in their wine lists about where the wine comes from, but they never put their Fairtrade sources on their menus. What's the difference?"
Consumers do actually want to see this, says Sue Cronin-Jones, purchasing director at DBC Foodservice. "A third of consumers want more Fairtrade products in restaurants and pubs but 32% of people say that apparent non-availability remains the reason they do not purchase Fairtrade products. So, stating that a dish is made from Fairtrade rice provides a piece of memorable information for customers, and restaurateurs should always state if a recipe uses Fairtrade ingredients."
Here comes an opportunity, says the foundation. The theme for this year's Fairtrade Fortnight is "the Big Swap", an attempt to persuade consumers to try a Fairtrade equivalent of their usual choice. This can apply to ingredients.
It is still unusual for a kitchen to use Fairtrade as its point of difference, but it is beginning to happen, observes Eli Sarre, marketing manager at Essential Trading. "Just as some ground-breaking restaurants develop a reputation for organic or local food, we now have those who are recognised for Fairtrade. The customers' perception is that restaurants who promote themselves as ‘organic Fairtrade' will source the very best ingredients."
Essential Trading now offers catering sizes for Fairtrade ingredients including basmati and Jasmine rice, sesame seeds, cashew nuts, chocolate-covered fruit and mango slices.
That so few restaurants promote Fairtrade ingredients, just shows how practical marketing of Fairtrade is still in its infancy, observes Ben Lock, head of sales at Traidcraft. "Consumers know about Fairtrade coffee from the supermarket - but how many realise that a local independent restaurant may use Fairtrade rice as part of its menu?
"Traidcraft already has honeys, jam and marmalade which are used extensively by bed and breakfast operators. We now also have high-quality Fairtrade basmati rice from Agrocel in India, Fairtrade organic pasta and Fairtrade quinoa flour from the slopes of the Andes. Our Fairtrade olive oil is from Palestine, from disadvantaged farmers."
Similarly, more Fairtrade spices are now available from Steenbergs - organic curry powder, organic garam masala and organic cardamom pods have joined a range that is now 13-strong, all Fairtrade and organic.
Pre-packed snack producers have seen the demand for quality increase, says Ian Toal, managing director of Delice de France. "In the past, Fairtrade products have not been known as providing value for money - now, a Nielsen report says that while there is a huge propensity for people wanting Fairtrade, they will not spend on something that is not good value for money".
Peros, already the biggest supplier of Fairtrade beverages to food service, has launched two new ranges of Fairtrade snacks. The One World range includes a substantial Eccles cake plus flapjacks, brownies, and muffins, and Peros says that independent blind tastings against market-leading competitor products have produced favourable results. The second range is of cookies.
The "limited-edition" Fairtrade product has now arrived from Byron Bay Cookies. This idea has already been used for a strawberries-and-cream cookie, sold during summer - some tea-houses made up a cookie-and-tea menu item - and the plum pudding cookie for Christmas. The Fairtrade Fortnight one is an apricot and almond muesli cookie.
Fairtrade nibbles on the bar are now possible -Harry's Nuts are headed by TV presenter Harry Hill, in support of smallholder farmers in Malawi and Mozambique, many of whom are women looking after Aids orphans. He argues a quality issue - the nuts are claimed to be tastier than big-name competitors.
In the dessert sector, Fairtrade ice-cream is now a desirable menu feature. Wilma Finlay, the managing director at Cream o' Galloway, explains that the sugar content of ice-cream alone makes up the required Fairtrade content, but that flavouring can be a problem.
"We use elderflower cordial to flavour our ice-cream, and that cordial includes non-Fairtrade sugar. We have to apply for a derogation - if we can show that we cannot buy elderflower cordial made with Fairtrade sugar, then they will allow it."
Big progress is being made in Fairtrade wine. It still accounts for only 2% of the market, and only comes from South Africa, Chile and Argentina, but last year's annual Fairtrade wine-tasting event achieved a 34% increase in entrants.
"It is at the cheaper volume end of the market that these wines generally perform," says Neil Palmer, director at Vintage Roots. "There is possibly a lack of higher-end wines, at £9 or over."
Opportunities are also arriving in non-food sectors. The Fairtrade Foundation is targeting the hospitality industry for cotton uniforms, largely because Fairtrade clothing sales in the fashion stores have dropped in the recession. Contract caterer ISS Eaton has been quick to see the potential, and at the Open University in Milton Keynes, all kitchen staff uniforms will be Fairtrade-certified. Even the oven mitts are Fairtrade.
Better yet, says the foundation, hotels can potentially furnish entire bedrooms with Fairtrade fabrics.
And within those rooms can now be Fairtrade cosmetics. Sue Acton, director of Bubble and Balm, claims several Fairtrade firsts in soap products using Fairtrade-certified sugar from Malawi and Zambia and shea butter from Burkina Faso.
"We are now launching the first-ever natural liquid soaps with the Fairtrade Mark, and we believe these have great potential in hotels and restaurants that want to demonstrate their commitment to Fairtrade."
An extremely convenient new aspect of Fairtrade for caterers is the way that certain big brands have now taken up the Fairtrade Mark.
When Fairtrade first arrived, the problem for the hospitality trade was that the first products were brought out by small pioneer companies, who might be wonderful manufacturers, but whose names meant nothing to the public. This year it is easier, in that more well-known products can be promoted through their Fairtrade status - Cadburys achieved the Fairtrade Mark on its Dairy Milk chocolate bars last summer, and now Nestlé UK has put the logo on Kit Kat bars. For the first time, the cliché about "the reassurance of brand" can go side-by-side with legitimate Fairtrade accreditation.
Byron Bay launched a limited edition cookie while Harry Hill has lent his name to a range of bar snacks
Beyond the Bean (Byron Bay Cookies)
0117 953 3522
Bubble and Balm
0800 917 7367
Cadbury 0870 191 7343
Cream o' Galloway
DBC Foodservice 01707 323421
Delice de France
0845 077 2266
0117 958 3550
020 7405 5942
020 7375 1221
Nestlé Professional 0800 742842