Are hospitality businesses embracing fair trade?

20 October 2010 by
Are hospitality businesses embracing fair trade?

In Horsham Station's Solo Caffe, Roberta Guthrey is hurriedly churning out wraps. "You try to do your bit," she answers when asked about the Fairtrade products the small station café sells. "I really think everyone should become Fairtrade, there's no reason why not to."

It's a view echoed by the West Sussex town's Fairtrade steering group, chaired by Gaynor Cooper, which has been trying since 2003 - when Horsham gained Fairtrade town status - to convince all of its businesses to stock Fairtrade products.

Not everyone is quite as eager to come on board as Guthrey. The list of participating eateries in Horsham contains just a handful of cafés and restaurants. The one pub that served Fairtrade coffee, the Queens Head, no longer continues to do so following a change of management. In some establishments there seems to be a slight confusion as to what Fairtrade actually constitutes. "Chef can't very well go looking for a Fairtrade seabass," came the straight-faced reply when one nameless front-of-house manager was asked whether his restaurant stocks Fairtrade produce.

Down the road, Fairtrade does not appear high on the agenda at Restaurant Tristan, the fine-dining establishment run by one-time Michelin-starred chef Tristan Mason. "To be honest, we don't really use many Fairtrade products," he says. "Bananas are the only one. We're much more concerned with getting good local produce than looking out for Fairtrade. If an item came up and it was Fairtrade we'd look at it, but at the moment it's only bananas."

The list of excuses Cooper has come across is short and somewhat repetitive. "Sometimes they say it's more expensive, but that's an excuse that holds less and less water these days as more Fairtrade produce becomes available," she says. "Others say that the quality is not up to it. Italian cafés and restaurants may say they only use coffee blended in Italy, from which not much Fairtrade is available. Or they might just say that my regular supplier doesn't stock it so I won't unless there's a good business reason to do so."

As far as the last point is concerned, no restaurant or café could remember, when asked, of a customer ever asking for Fairtrade, so if an establishment is looking for its custom base to influence its produce decisions - rather than leading them - it could be waiting a long time.

Reluctance isn't the only issue when bringing hospitality ventures on board with Fairtrade town campaigns. Often, resources are simply too low to canvas. In Camden - which also has Fairtrade status - Marion Hill helps run the steering group and lacks the time to actively encourage restaurants and cafés to come on board. "We're a small group of volunteers and we simply don't have the manpower to do all the things we could do," she says. "I made a directory of all the retail outlets, cafés and restaurants that sell Fairtrade but it was something I had to do in my spare time by going in, it wasn't a case that I was contacted by them."

Hannah Reed, campaign manager (Fairtrade towns) at the Fairtrade Foundation, explains that a lot of energy from steering groups is expended on raising demand, rather than encouraging supply. "Many groups focus chiefly on campaigns to raise awareness - say, in Fairtrade Fortnight - so that people will ask for Fairtrade. It's often their weekends and spare time that they do it in, and increasing understanding by speaking to people face-to-face is more rewarding than contacting shops and restaurants."

However, one town that has successfully reigned in the local hospitality industry is Keswick in Cumbria. Joe Human, a member of the Fairtrade steering group, says that the group recognised the importance such businesses had to play and went about targeting them.

"Keswick is in the heart of the Lake District. So the places that will get the most exposure in a tourist town are bed and breakfasts, hotels and cafés. We want the multiplier effect, if everyone who stayed or ate in Keswick is exposed to Fairtrade, hopefully they will tell more people about it when they return home," he says.


After starting the bid to turn Fairtrade in 2003, campaigners went door-to-door, convincing businesses of the merits of Fairtrade products. "We found out about local suppliers in and around the area and showed businesses how easy it would be to use the products," says Human. "Once the thing started to roll, other suppliers realised they would miss out unless they wholesaled Fairtrade to the catering industry."

Seven years on, there are more than 200 guesthouses, hotels, hostels, restaurants and cafés serving Fairtrade produce in the small Cumbrian town. But still the group runs regular tasting evenings for the likes of bed and breakfast and café owners to come along and sample Fairtrade produce, in order to dispel any myths of inferiority.

One other initiative that has helped raise interest among hospitality businesses in Keswick is a new, well-designed Keswick Fairtrade website, that lists all of the participating establishments. The idea, says Human, is to add business value on to going Fairtrade. "We now tell all of the places we approach that if they switch to Fairtrade they will have the added bonus of free advertising on the site."

It's all sterling work from the small Cumbrian town. But even at that shining example of a Fairtrade town, the driving force is the steering group rather than the hospitality industry. As Fairtrade products become cheaper, better quality and more readily available, the question is why aren't more businesses coming on board? I put the question to Cooper and she thinks for a minute. "I really don't know," she answers. "You'd think they'd jump at it. It stresses that how we trade should be fair. It's not all about money, it's about how we treat people. And everyone involved, from those buying to those drinking, can get a feel-good factor from that."


The first Fairtrade town was the community of Garstang, Lancashire, which declared itself Fairtrade in 2000. Since then, similar initiatives have sprung up in Canada, the United States, France, Ireland, Belgium, Spain, Italy and Brazil.

The UK currently has 500 towns accredited as Fairtrade.

There are five criteria to meet for accreditation:

â- A range of at least two Fairtrade products must be available in the area's retail outlets and served in local catering outlets - the number depends on the size of the town.

â- Local workplaces and community organisations must support Fairtrade and use Fairtrade products whenever possible.

â- Events to raise awareness and understanding of Fairtrade should be run across the community.

â- A local Fairtrade steering group should be created to ensure the campaign continues to develop and gain new support.

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