Time for (ethical) tea

FAIRTRADE HAS become a badge of honour for many coffee brands. But the £300m out-of-home tea market has been forgotten, says Euan Venters.

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Fairtrade can seem like a “must have” for cafés, coffee shops and canteens. For many consumers the Fairtrade Mark has become an expected symbol on a menu board, helping to promote the range on offer.


As well as projecting a strong smell of ethics, Fairtrade coffee carries an almost imperceptible, underlying promise that care has been taken from crop to cup. With the making and serving of coffee now something of an art form, Fairtrade introducing a reminder of the origins of the brew only adds to this performance.


In both areas – the popularity of the beverage and the theatrics involved in making the drinking experience special – Fairtrade tea lags behind.


Yet there are huge opportunities for businesses to make more of the nation’s favourite brew. I recently heard Suki Tea explain how more can be made of the out-of-home tea experience. As well as responsibility in sourcing the product, the right cups, mugs, teapots and teapot holders can all play their part in selling quality and attention to detail.


Fairtrade tea is widely available to this sector and could, for most, easily complement Fairtrade coffee, sugar sticks and more.


But while the coffee industry and drinkers are aware of needing an ethical strategy, the same needs to be put in place for tea. The tea sector is notorious for low prices, low wages and poor working conditions. Fairtrade Standards aim to ensure that workers are paid at least the national minimum wage and enjoy decent working conditions.


Last year we also introduced a new hired labour standard which requires plantations to move towards paying seasonal, hired workers a living wage.


In the supermarkets, about two-thirds of tea is sold on special offer at any one time. Traders and tea companies are clear that consumers need convincing when we suggest that they need to pay more for a box of teabags bought in the supermarket in order to protect tea workers.


Yet in the service sector, the cost of the actual tea is a fraction of the final sales price of a cup in a café or canteen. Staff costs, energy bills, milk, crockery and other overheads make up a much bigger proportion of the price. The impact of introducing the living wage for tea pickers is likely to equate to less than a penny extra per cup.


As consumers place more importance on traceability and the origin of what they buy there is no better time to look at the tea offering within your business, not only the ethics but also the presentation and quality of product. Fairtrade tea is a great way to refresh the menus in foodservice, safe in the knowledge that it tastes good and does good.


Euan Venters is commercial director at the Fairtrade Foundation