Growing consumer demand for ethically sourced coffee has fuelled a huge year-on-year rise in sales, figures revealed yesterday, with further growth predicted following deals with restaurants such as the fast food chain McDonald's.
Global sales of coffee, chocolate and bananas certified by the conservation organisation Rainforest Alliance - which supports the world's poorest farmers in Latin America and Africa - exceeded £500m for the first time last year.
Coffee growers among the 14,892 farms and plantations certified by the Rainforest Alliance use sustainable farming techniques to grow their beans.
Earlier this year McDonald's became the first major retailer to switch to certified coffee from Kenco at its 1,200 UK restaurants. Yesterday the company said the move had led to a 15% increase in the number of cups of coffee sold every day.
While the general coffee market has been static for a number of years, the volume of coffee from Rainforest Alliance-certified farmers has almost doubled each year since 2003 from 7m lb (3.1m kg) to 54.7m lb in 2006, the organisation said yesterday. It is projected to exceed 91m lb this year.
Chris Wille, chief of sustainable agriculture at Rainforest Alliance, said: "The UK has been at the forefront of global demand for sustainably grown goods and companies large and small are responding by putting sustainability at the heart of their sourcing strategies. These commitments are delivering real benefits to more than a million farm workers and their families as well as the environment on which they depend."
Other retailers are following the lead taken by McDonald's. Last month, all in-store cafes at the supermarket chain Morrisons started to serve both Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade-certified coffee from Bolling Coffee. Pret a Manger also sells a triple-certified coffee in all its outlets, sourced from farms which meet Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade and organic standards.
Unilever Foodsolutions - the world's largest purchaser of black tea - has recently launched the world's first Rainforest Alliance-certified tea.
Farms certified by the alliance produce 15% of bananas grown worldwide. The UK-based company Innocent, which manufactures fruit smoothie drinks, used certified bananas and is also looking at other fruits. Also in the pipeline is the first juice product to have the Rainforest Alliance certification. Good Natured juice goes on sale in supermarkets this month, made from Valencia oranges grown in Costa Rica.
Unlike the rival Fairtrade Foundation, the Rainforest Alliance does not guarantee premium prices for farmers, although it claims to offer other financial incentives. Critics claim that Rainforest Alliance certification is cheaper and easier to obtain than rival schemes, with no licensing fee to use its logo.
Vicki Hird, food campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: "There are a plethora of ethical and green labels and certification schemes being developed. The evidence behind them needs to be completely transparent so consumers can see what they really mean.
"Both the schemes themselves and the companies using the accreditations need to be frequently reviewed but we also need mandatory government regulation to ensure that all companies meet environmental and social standards."
Full of certified beans
· All 1,200 McDonald's restaurants in the UK and Ireland now sell only Kraft's Kenco sustainable development coffee, containing 100% Rainforest Alliance-certified beans.
· Morrisons instore cafes sell dual-certified Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade coffee supplied by UK roaster Bolling Coffee.
· Lyons original and decaffeinated roast and ground coffees were among the first in the UK to include beans from Rainforest Alliance farms. Gala Tea and Coffee, owner of the Lyons brand, increased the Rainforest Alliance-certified coffee in these products from 30% to 100% in May this year.
· Pret a Manger sells a triple-certified coffee in all its UK restaurants sourced from farms that meet Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade and Organic standards.
© 2007 The Guardian