Fair Trade USA Coffee Innovation Program: 2012 Results

Coffee Imports Up 18%; Cooperatives and Pilot Farms Benefit

10/04/2013 - 11:04 AM

Results are in for the first year of Fair Trade USA’s Coffee Innovation Program. We’re pleased to report that imports of Fair Trade Certified coffee increased 18% across the board in 2012, benefiting both new and existing Fair Trade farming communities.

Launched as a series of pilot projects in early 2012, the program focuses on extending the benefits and opportunities of Fair Trade to farm workers and independent smallholders, who represent the vast majority of the coffee farming population but have historically been excluded from Fair Trade. It also focuses on strengthening existing Fair Trade cooperatives--building business capacity, improving quality, and increasing competitiveness. 

After a year of monitoring and evaluation, we learned that:

  • In 2012 cooperatives exported 18% more Fair Trade Certified coffee to North America than the previous year, for a total of 163MM lbs. These sales resulted in $32MM in community development premiums. 
  • The number of cooperatives from which Fair Trade USA’s North American partners sourced grew by 23%.  
  • Only 0.2% of all Fair Trade Certified coffee imports in 2012 were from pilot farms; 99.8% came from co-ops.
  • 100% of the Fair Trade coffee sold by pilots was Fair Trade Organic coffee from Brazil – 175,958 lbs.
  • Total Fair Trade Organic imports from Brazil increased by 50%. Overall Brazilian Fair Trade imports remained steady. 
  • New products were created using both pilot coffee and coffee from existing Fair Trade cooperatives. In one instance, the pilot coffee drove increased sales for cooperatives in other countries. 

Impact on Cooperatives:

  • All pilot purchases in Brazil were from new business, and did not replace existing co-op purchases. This includes purchases from buyers who had never purchased this coffee before, or who converted new SKUs to Fair Trade.
  • Pilot purchases directly benefited co-ops in other countries. In 2012, at least one SKU was converted to Fair Trade using part FTO pilot coffee, and part FTO coffee from cooperatives outside of Brazil. These Fair Trade co-ops had been selling into the blend for years, but hadn’t received premiums becuause the coffee could not be labeled as Fair Trade. Fair Trade USA has strict guidelines for label use, requiring that a bag of coffee be 100% Fair Trade Certified to bear the logo.  With the onboarding of a Brazilian estate pilot, all coffee in the blend is now Fair Trade, and the co-ops are beginning to receive Fair Trade prices and premiums.

Looking Ahead:

As of October 2013, 12 groups have been brought into the pilot program, representing 9,000 independent smallholders and farm workers in Africa and Latin America. Nine of these groups have been certified.

Fair Trade USA acknowledges that the 2012 sample size is small, and more time and information is needed to truly understand the longterm impact of this work. This is why we’ve developed a comprehensive Impact Assessment Process in partnership with organizations like  CIAT, Catholic Relief Services and United Farm Workers to track, analyze and report on the outcomes of the pilots from a variety of perspectives.

With 2 billion people living on less than $2 a day, 65% of whom work in agriculture, Fair Trade has a very real potential to empower all small-scale coffee farmers, both organized and independent, as well as hired farm workers, to fight poverty through better trade. That’s why we’re so committed to learning all we can from the pilots, to partnering with others for greater impact, and to including more people in Fair Trade in the years to come.

We welcome open, honest dialogue around this work, and encourage people to send any questions, comments or feedback to our Director of Coffee Innovation, Miguel Zamora (

10/04/2013 - 11:04 AM
10/04/2013 - 10:04 AM