TeaGuide: Reviews and Ramblings

February 2, 2011

Ramblings: Fair Trade and organic — does anyone care?

Filed under: earth-friendly,Tea sites — by JanisB @ 4:14 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Seems like every tea (and coffee) merchant these days is pushing “green:” Fair Trade and organic. Sustainable sources. Recyclable (or recycled) packaging.

These are business people who, one presumes, want to make a living selling their products. So one must also presume that they are offering these “earth-friendly” items because that’s what their customers want to buy.

But is this what consumers really want? Is it a purely emotional issue, or is there hard evidence to back it up?

Recently a member of my Teamail group asked for my help polling members on this very subject. The member wanted some reliable statistics for an in-the-works book. It’s a timely and important topic, so I posted a poll with questions about “eco-friendly” tea, and invited members to respond. 89 of them did, and added to the 64 who responded to the aforementioned member via another venue, approximately 150 tea and coffee consumers expressed their opinions on the subject. Granted that this is not a huge sampling, but the participants represent a very targeted group. Here is a breakdown of the questions (each starts with an arrow –>), which represent a wide spectrum of perspective, and the responses, in percentages (%):

–> I am careful to buy Fair Trade and organic teas, and only in eco-friendly packaging or take-out cups, preferably in an environment created with green or recycled materials. These issues are very important to me and I’m happy that tea sellers finally “get it” — I’m even willing to pay extra for these amenities: 2%

–> I much prefer to buy Fair Trade and organic teas from an eco-friendly vendor. While these issues are important to me, they are not the sole criterion for my purchasing decisions: 21%

–> If I have a choice I prefer Fair Trade and organic tea from an eco-friendly seller, but these criteria are not as important to me as taste, quality, price, and good customer service: 21%

–> I buy tea based on taste, quality, price, and customer service. If the tea happens to be Fair Trade and organic, the packaging or environment are eco-friendly and made of sustainable materials, that’s a bonus: 38%

–> I buy tea based on taste, quality, price, and customer service. I don’t really care if the tea is Fair Trade and organic, or if the packaging or take-out cups are made from sustainable materials: 3%

–> I buy tea based on taste, quality, price, and customer service. Period. The rest of it really doesn’t matter to me: 11%

–> I have no idea (so I guess I really don’t care) what Fair Trade, organic, eco-friendly, and sustainable have to do with tea. I just buy what I like!: 2%

–> I buy tea based on taste, quality, price, and customer service. I avoid “eco-friendly” and “sustainable” stuff because they really add nothing to the tea except for increasing the price: 1%

–> I specifically do not buy Fair Trade, organic, green, eco-friendly, or “sustainable” tea or anything else. I think it’s all a scam, and that the people who “certify” these products need to get real jobs in the real world: 1%

So after eliminating the 2% with strong opinions on either end of the discussion, we have 80% of consumers expressing various levels of interest in “green” products — but who are not willing to go out of their way, or pay extra, for it. And another 16% for whom the topic is barely on the radar.

What does this mean for the tea industry — to owners of tea businesses, and to prospective owners? Is “eco” just a fad, part and parcel to the discredited “global warming” scares? Based on these numbers, it seems to me that a business’ capital would be better spent on teas that taste good and are competitively priced, and top-notch customer service, than on spoons made from corn or other “eco” hype.

From growers, wholesalers, and retailers, to packaging manufacturers, to marketers, the tea and coffee industries seem to have a lot invested in “eco,” and I imagine there will be plenty of readers with opinions about the information presented here. Obviously my conclusions and views are not the last words on the subject. You’re welcome to leave your comments — please keep them civil and non-commercial.

And to put any rumours to the contrary to rest, my family and I live in a house devoid of cathedral ceilings and hot tubs, use energy-saving appliances and thermal draperies, and always turn out the lights when we leave a room. We recycle everything our local recycling centre accepts. Additionally, we grow a large garden and orchard which we enrich with cow manure and kitchen wastes (especially eggshells and spent tea leaves); all uncultivated land is left to natural woods and native plant growth. And we feed and house birds, too. So there!

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