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Fair Trade Insights for Fairtrade Fortnight - What Do Consumers Think About Brands With a Fair Trade Ethos?

06/03/2014 12:38 GMT | Updated 05/05/2014 10:59 BST

As we're approaching the conclusion of Fairtrade Fortnight, which runs from 24th February to 9th March, it feels appropriate to look in detail at what fair trade means for brands and consumers today. The concept of fair trade (that is, the ethical and sustainable sourcing of products) has become an important part of brand and product identity for many companies in recent years, but what is its potential value? What do consumers think about fair trade businesses?

At Northstar, we recently designed a survey to help us answer these important questions. We asked consumers to consider what fair trade means to them as individuals, as well as their attitudes towards brands with a fair trade ethos. Below the results are discussed with 'identity potential' in mind across three specific factors: opportunities, familiarity and perceptions.

Fair trade opportunities

The opportunity for fair trade is niche. 23% of consumers feel there is a wider consumer concern for fair trade - suggesting that approx. ¾ of consumers question its value. That said, only 9% of consumers feel that brands care about fair trade. Despite these figures being at the lower end of the scale there is still a significant gap between how brands are delivering on fair trade vs. perceptions of wider consumer concern.

Fair trade insight: the consumer concern for fair trade may be relatively low but it is also unmet by brands.

Fair trade familiarity

At the heart of fair trade branding is the use of the Fairtrade Foundation logo. Of course, this can only be a valuable visual asset if it garners consumer familiarity - which indeed it does, with 66% of consumers surveyed stating they are familiar with the logo. This suggests that using the logo on packaging and so forth is worthwhile for brands with a fair trade ethos.

How familiar are consumers with brands that already use the logo? Our survey results show that just over half of consumers recognise the fair trade contributions of the fair trade-centric The Body Shop (51%), but less than a quarter recognise Cadbury's, Nike or McDonald's as having a fair trade ethos. These three brands arguably use fair trade substantially less in their marketing than The Body Shop. This suggests that there is little value for brands in only partially leveraging fair trade. If you wish to make fair trade a major asset of your brand, put it high on the agenda. When used as a minor tool in brand identity, fair trade may not resonate strongly with consumers.

Fair trade insight: fair trade branding has potential, but may be being underused by some brands.

Fair trade perceptions

If brands can clearly communicate a fair trade ethos, what benefits can they potentially gain? Just over half of consumers surveyed (51%) believe that fair trade brands can be trusted - a vital attribute for a brand to be able to leverage in this twenty-first century world of commercial distrust. Furthermore, a similar proportion of consumers (49%) see fair trade brands as caring for society, suggesting that fair trade marketing can be a core part of corporate social responsibility programs.

Fair trade insight: fair trade can potentially enhance brand reputation in consumers' eyes.

Conclusion

Given what we now know about fair trade within branding and marketing, what advice can we give to brands who wish to link the concept with their identity? Firstly, the results suggest that the scope for increasing consumer concern about fair trade is limited - so making your brand 'fair trade' will not make it or break it. Having said that, if you do decide to include fair trade as part of your identity, make it a central part of that identity in order to maximise the positive perceptions it can draw in - namely trust and care for society. Simply using it in 'bit part' format will likely have limited resonance with consumers.

Survey data based on n=200 UK nationally representative sample collected via Google Surveys between 21st February and 2nd March.