Big business fair trade: Delhaize is making the difference
Delhaize offers some seventy fair trade products, mainly coffee, tea, sugar, cookies, vegetables and fruit. At 'Sinterklaas' in December and Easter, the supermarket chain also offers chocolate figurines. In addition to fair trade products under Delhaize's own brand name you can also buy products from Oxfam, Candico and Ben & Jerry’s. Delhaize has worked with Fairtrade Belgium for more than 25 years and continuous support to sustainable trade is an essential part of its strategy.
Anaïs Pauwels, sustainable private brand manager, supports the purchasing team in developing a sustainable product vision, covering both fair trade and organic products. She also works on projects for sustainable fisheries, sustainable palm oil use, ecologic packaging, etc. Anaïs explains how Delhaize develops its fair trade product range. “Once or twice a year we collect feedback from consumers. We interview customers in supermarkets or online, for instance during the Fair Trade Week. Fairtrade Belgium also provides feedback about our product range and we often ask them whether we have missed any opportunities. We also look at the market ourselves. I check the product range of our competitors, and our purchasing officers, who are all responsible for a specific product category such as coffee or chocolate, also keep a finger on the pulse. We put that information together to find new products. For instance, in October we extended our tea assortment: originally it had six fair trade teas; now it has more than ten, including a few organic ones.”
Has Delhaize also picked up on the fact that organic and fair trade increasingly go hand in hand? “Yes, we have. We have always tried to combine both as much as possible, but we do not demand this from our suppliers. In 2013 we organised a trip with Fairtrade Belgium and the purchasing officers to Colombia. We noticed that it is only a small step for producers to obtain both certificates. For us such a combination is good because these products reach a broader public and not only the consumer who looks for fair trade. The organic market is also larger. We offer seven times more organic than fair trade products.”
The fair trade product range is not treated differently from any other product range. However, the profit margin must remain limited compared to the minimum price that the farmers get. “This is often difficult, take fluctuating coffee prices for instance. It differs for every product. Fair trade products are not necessarily expensive. If you look at coffee and tea there is a large market which means prices level out. But you do pay more for special products such as chocolate and pineapples. Our fair trade chocolate Easter figurines are also slightly more expensive, but it is up to us to correctly explain to customers how the fair trade system works, and that you pay more because the cocoa producers are paid a minimum wage.”
Not all products with fair trade raw materials are labelled. For instance, certain sweets with sugar cane are not Fairtrade labelled because the percentage of fair trade raw materials is too low. “Some ingredients can hardly be fair trade sourced which explains why some products are not 100% fair trade. But we are fair in our communications and we are obliged to indicate the total percentage of fair trade ingredients on our packages”.
Recently, the media paid considerable attention to the ongoing protest of dairy and hog farmers in Belgium who, like in the South, are paid too little for their products to survive. Has the time come for a fair trade label in support of European farmers? Where does Delhaize stand on this issue? “We offer Fairbel milk and support our Belgian dairy producers. Another initiative that we took two years ago was the ‘Better for all’ label, for which we adapted our whole pork assortment. ‘Better’ does not just refer to the pigs that are fed a more varied and balanced diet which improves the quality of pork, but it also refers to the support, financially and through contracts, which Delhaize provides to producers. Very concretely, it means that farmers have to feed their pigs flaxseed, which is more expensive. Delhaize will support this by signing long-term contracts with these hog farmers and by compensating them financially for the more expensive fodder. The ‘Better for all’ project is a considerable but important investment, and cooperation with hog farmers has significantly improved because of the project. Other assortments will be adapted using the same principle. For its fruit, vegetable and meat products Delhaize works with Belgian producers as much as possible anyway. Because we look for huge volumes the local market may not supply enough, but the rule is that if it is available in Belgium, we buy in Belgium. Moreover, Delhaize has developed local assortments for a number of years now. Each sector offers some fifty products exclusively. Our local purchasing officer looks into the local offer and makes arrangements with local suppliers who deliver directly to the supermarket."
At Delhaize, fair trade products have always been part of the overall offer, because “if you put them on a separate shelf you only reach the diehards. In addition, the customer likes to compare and see why exactly more is paid.” At the last two editions of the Fair Trade Week, Delhaize displayed all fair trade products separately though to give the customer an idea of the broad product range and the promotions. It was a success. Customers not only got to know the products, they also found the products elsewhere in our supermarkets afterwards. Other occasions to promote fair trade products are Valentine's Day (chocolate), Mother's Day (roses) and the Organic Week in June.
Delhaize was the first supermarket chain to offer fair trade coffee back in 1989. “Of course, our attention for sustainable trade and development contributes to a positive image, but not being afraid to innovate really is in our genes. In 2011 we almost doubled our fair trade product range, adding candy and T-shirts among other things. We tried to launch other products than the usual bananas, sugar and tea. Sometimes it was a success, but not always. Sweets, for instance, were difficult because the customer does not always link cane sugar to fair trade. But Delhaize takes on its responsibility and our purchasing officers are interested in launching new, sustainable products. Our fair trade figurines, which we have offered for three years in a row now at 'Sinterklaas' and Easter, set us apart from other retailers.”
Can fair trade be combined with the often tough price wars – with suppliers put under pressure – waged between the major supermarket chains? “We try as much as possible to meet all needs at all levels. We aim to offer quality products at a correct price. In general, we have good relations with our suppliers. We definitely will not suddenly terminate a contract or stop selling certain products. Both the number of fair trade products and sales have always increased. Early on, the focus lay mainly on coffee; over the past fifteen years the product range has broadened significantly. Belgian customers, and especially younger consumers, have grown familiar with fair trade. Fairtrade Belgium’s school campaigns also have a big impact. Often the kids know better than their parents what fair trade stands for and why it is important.”