It has been ten years since products bearing the Fairtrade Certificate started being sold on the Czech market. The anniversary comes side by side news that 2013 was the best year for Fairtrade sales in the country so far. With Czechs having bought products worth 173 million crowns, retail sales went up 80 percent more than in 2012. Fairtrade continues to widen its reach and assortment across Czech retail stores and raise awareness of the mark through various campaigns. It also seems to be profiting from an emerging trend of more critical consumers.
In a country where most people look primarily at prices when shopping for food the news may come as a surprise. However, there are indicators which show why Fairtrade products saw such rapid growth in demand over the past decade.
One of these is the fact that Fairtrade is still a relatively new mark on the Czech market and its products are continuing to be added into many retail stores across the country. This can lead to rapid increases in sales, like it did in 2010 when purchases went up 60 percent after Fair Trade products were introduced into a number of superstores across the country.
Profits have also come from the adoption of Fairtrade products in major gastronomic facilities like café chains Starbucks and Tchibo which became Fairtrade’s main source of profits during 2011 when the economic crisis was hitting superstore sales in the Czech Republic.
Coffee has traditionally been Fairtrade’s most successful product in the Czech Republic, generally accounting for more than half of all the organization’s sales in the country. Veronika Bačová, head of the Media section of Fairtrade ČS said this is not only because Czechs traditionally tend to be big coffee drinkers. “Coffee generally tends to be a popular product where Fairtrade is a new phenomenon because there is a wide offer and it is easy to find demand. But right now we are also working on introducing products which are popular abroad but haven’t yet broken into the Czech market. Particularly bananas and flower cuts.”
Another reason behind the organizations success has been its activity in raising awareness across the Czech Republic. This includes getting schools, local churches and regional towns to use and support Fairtrade products in their area, an example of this practice being the recent addition of the Czech University of Life Sciences’ Faculty of Tropical AgriSciences into the program.
However, apart from the impact of the awareness campaigns and market expansion, Bačová said there is another major reason behind why Czechs buy more Fairtrade products: “After a number of scandals connected to rotten or false imported food were uncovered in recent years, people have become more careful about what they buy and where it comes from. We believe that our focus on providing detailed information about the products origin on every package has led to our foodstuffs becoming more sought after.”
Despite a new interest in what it is they are buying, many Czechs still do not fully understand what the mark means and believe it is automatically a sign of higher quality. “Consumers often buy our certified products without being aware that it has been ethically traded. In this respect it is necessary to further educate Czech society about our mark,” said Jiří Remr from the Institute for Evaluations and Social Analyses who is also a member of the managing board of Fairtrade ČS.
The organization admits there is still much work to do in the Czech Republic, but is proud of its success in establishing a stable share in the Czech market and wishes to grow further. In April Fair Trade’s representative in the Czech Republic announced it would expand into Slovakia and renamed itself Fairtrade ČS. According to Juraj Hipš, director of CEEV Živica, a Slovakian NGO concerned with educating the public on matters of sustainable consumption, the situation in Slovakia is similar to what it was in the Czech Republic: “Many people in Slovakia don’t know the Fair Trade mark. A lot of them think it is a charity.”