Fair Trade Coffee: The Story Beyond the Cup

By Jeff Seyfarth
October 26, 2015
A Columbian coffee farmer stands in the mountains

Coffee: It’s the way many Americans start their day. Whether it’s brewing a cup at home or stopping by their favorite local coffee shop, many consider coffee an essential part of their routine. According to a recent 2015 National Coffee Drinking Trends Study, more than half of Americans – 59% – drink at least one cup of coffee daily.

I wonder how many of those coffee drinkers know what it really takes to make their cup of coffee? The process is one of the most complex in the food industry. As part of my job as a grocery buyer for Sam’s Club, I recently took a trip to the Andes region of Colombia that forever changed the way I see coffee, and gave me even more respect for the farmers who grow it.

Colombia is well-known as producing the best coffee in the world, primarily due to its altitude and superior growing conditions. The farmers I visited there were extremely hard workers, and their yields served as the primary source of incomes for their families. They deal with rugged terrain and steep hills to seed, harvest and maintain their small farms. And, with only two significant harvest seasons, getting the most for what they grow is absolutely necessary.

One of the farmers I spent time with is Leonel Jaramillo. Leo has been a coffee farmer for decades, and continues to grow his farm, Tres Estrellas (Three Stars). Thanks to cooperative programs and the commitment of major coffee producers such as Colcafe, a leading company in Colombia, his farming legacy is much more likely to continue to thrive. His daughter will benefit from education provided through a co-op program to learn the coffee growing trade. Also, the family will continue to benefit from being Fair Trade Certified, earning the most for their harvests.

Fair Trade is a powerful way for consumers to support farmers and artisans. Through certification from Fair Trade USA, small farmers across the globe have agreements aimed at ensuring better prices, safe working conditions and environmental responsibility. These agreements also provide investments in education and improvement projects.

Fair Trade makes it possible for many small farmers like Leo to receive fair compensation thanks to Fair Trade premiums. Maintaining fair trade agreements helps farmers and other skilled workers maintain a self-sufficient business, providing them with a stable source of income. And, in turn, their families and community benefit from this stability.

Today’s consumers are becoming increasingly socially conscious about the items they buy. It goes beyond just quality and value – shoppers want products that support the workers, farmers, and communities that create them. In fact, recent Harvard research indicates that a majority of consumers surveyed said they preferred ethically certified products and would pay more for them when shopping.

As we celebrate Fair Trade Month this October, Sam’s Club is working to raise awareness of Fair Trade Certified products. Our successful Daily Chef Fair Trade Coffee line offers members delicious coffee at a great value and we recently expanded our Fair Trade offerings with the addition of two new options from Luna Roasters.

Sam's Club introduced its private brand line of Fair Trade coffee in 2009. Since then, we’ve purchased more than 43,000,000 pounds of Fair Trade Certified Coffee and delivered more than $6 million in premiums back to farming communities. These premiums have been used on projects such as pest mitigation, promoting women’s empowerment, health care services, housing improvements, and more.

Fair Trade practices are important to me, and I hope you find them important as well. For additional information on how you can support Fair Trade, visit BeFair.org.