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Whole Foods commits to ethical sourcing

By Lorraine Heller , 30-Mar-2007

The nation's largest organic food retailer has launched a new trade program designed to source socially responsible products from developing countries, a move that highlights the growing importance of ethical goods in the US market.

Whole Foods Market yesterday unveiled its Whole Trade Guarantee, an 'ethical' buying program that comes in response to shoppers' growing concern with responsible trade, said the retailer.



The initiative establishes a set of strict criteria that products must meet to ensure good quality, more money for producers, better conditions for workers and sound environmental production practices. In addition, the retailer pledged to donate one percent of product sales to a foundation that aims to fight poverty in developing countries.



The move comes at a time when 'ethical', 'fair trade' and 'sustainable' are becoming increasingly important concepts in the minds and pockets of today's consumers.



According to a Mintel report released in January, food and drink product launches with an ethical positioning nearly doubled last year, with ethical labeling appearing in more diverse product categories.



And this is a trend which "doesn't show any signs of slowing in 2007," said the market researcher.



Ethical products are defined as those that include ingredients linked to fair trade or sustainability, also expanding to products that make ecological claims or link to charitable concerns.



Consumers today are more interested in fair trade and ethical business than ever before, a social consciousness that provides food manufacturers with fertile ground to drive sales by building up a sustainable brand image. As a result, a growing number of companies are becoming actively involved in social responsibility.



Products that are sourced from within the new program launched yesterday by Whole Foods will bear a Whole Trade logo, which will allow consumers to easily identify these on the shelves.



The retailer said the kind of products it will be sourcing under the initiative will include tea, coffee, cocoa, bananas, mangoes, rice, sugar and vanilla. The company aims to have over 50 percent of its imported products from the developing world fall under the Whole Trade Guarantee program within ten years. Over the long-term it said it hopes to source all developing products through the program.



Whole Foods will be working with two third party certifiers to ensure products it sources abide to the criteria set out in the program. These are the Rainforest Alliance and TransFair USA.



In a recent report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, the group revealed that sustainable development is expected to steadily advance over the next 10 years. And the challenge of creating strategies that meet immediate needs without sacrificing the needs of future generations is already here, with consumers increasingly conscious about which companies have been quickest to adapt their practices, it said.



What's more, the global food industry finds itself at the cutting edge. Exploitative sourcing is now a mainstream issue, while the dramatic growth of fair trade is pulling food consumption out of the cost-is-all bracket, with consumers prepared to pay more for guarantees of fair labor practices and sustainable sourcing.

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