Organic Experts Say Fair Trade is Good for Business and Farmers


Two key figures in the organic food industry told a Saint Mary's College audience that selling Fair Trade Certified coffee enables them to support farmers in Third World countries.

"Coffee comes from some of the most beautiful places in the world, but it also comes from some of the poorest," said Rick Peyser of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. "With the money Fair Trade Certified coffee supplies, people in poorer areas are able to send their kids to school."

Peyser and Nell Newman, the founder of Newman's Own Organics: The Second Generation, discussed the organic foods business and fair trade practices during a visit to campus on Jan. 17.

"I used to joke that I wanted to make money to give it away like Pop did," Newman said of her father, actor Paul Newman, who created Newman's Own as a nonprofit business to raise money for a variety of causes.

Nell Newman founded Newman's Own Organics in 1993 as a division her father's company. She started selling organic pretzels and quickly expanded to include more products. Soon Newman began to search for a company to produce coffee for Newman's Own Organics.

"We wanted to find people with similar ideals to work with, and we wanted to make the best coffee possible," Newman said.

Green Mountain Coffee Roasters filled the bill and the companies started making six varieties of Newman's Own Organic coffee several years ago. Newman's Own Organic coffee is Fair Trade Certified, which means the price paid for the beans is secured in case the market dips, and they are picked and grown with added care for the environment.

There are approximately 25 million coffee farmers in the world, and 100 million people are reliant on coffee as their main source of financial support. Many of them live in Third World countries, which are especially susceptible to coffee market crashes. During a severe drop in coffee bean prices in 2001 and 2002, an estimated 600,000 farmers were forced to migrate because they could no longer make a living.

"In the business we are in, the more coffee we can sell, the more farmers we can help," Peyser said. "That's really what keeps our business moving forward."

One intriguing step forward taken by Newman's Own Organic coffee was to team up with McDonald's. The fast food chain started selling Green Mountain Coffee Roasters product in an attempt to revive slumping breakfast sales in 2005. The move was a success for McDonald's, and coffee sales tripled in the 658 stores that featured Newman's Own Organic coffee.

"Teaming with McDonald's was an interesting conundrum for us," admitted Newman. "But in the end I had to look at the farmers, and by having our coffee in McDonald's we're not only able to sell more coffee to help farmers, but we're also able to get the word out about organic products and fair trade coffee into the mainstream."

The word has already reached Saint Mary's, which started serving fair trade coffee on campus several years ago after students successfully argued that, as a Catholic institution, Saint Mary's has a responsibility to look out for farmers.

"Sometimes it's easy not to think about the farmers because they're so far away," Newman said. "But I always figure if your neighbor was suffering you would do your best to help them out so why not do the same for our neighbors across the world?"

Peyser, whose company is an annual member of Business Ethics magazine's "100 Best Corporate Citizens," encouraged people to support coffee farmers by demanding fair trade coffee.

"Coffee roasters are very sensitive to what their consumers want," Peyser said. "If enough people ask for fair trade coffee they will reply to the demand."

--Kevin Damore
Office of College Communications