International development charity Oxfam is to join with the UK’s largest independent coffee roaster, Matthew Algie, to launch a chain of fair trade coffee shops, called Progreso, in partnership with coffee grower cooperatives.

Oxfam said the project aims to showcase the quality of fairly traded coffees and pioneer a new style of doing business that closes the gap between coffee growers in the developing world and coffee lovers on the high street. As well as coffee, Progreso will also sell fair trade food, such as cakes and biscuits. The Progreso website describes the chain as “the antithesis of the global corporate cafe, with better product and real heart”.

Coffee growers around the world are suffering through low prices that have fallen 70% since 1997. Fair trade coffee enables farmers to receive a fair price for their product.

“Coffee growers will win three times with Progreso. They’ll be selling their coffee at a fair trade price; they’ll share directly in the profits and will also showcase their coffee to the UK,” said Chris Coe, Oxfam’s trading director.

Fair trade coffee is the fastest growing sector of the UK coffee market. In 2003, consumers purchased 2083 tonnes of fair trade coffee from shops and supermarkets – an increase of 42% from 2002. Coffee shops sold 385 tonnes of fair trade coffee during the same period – an annual increase of 67%.

Progreso hopes to launch three outlets by the end of 2004 and have a chain of 20 within the next three years. Sites in Scotland and the southeast are being investigated.

“Although we are entering a competitive arena, fair trade coffee is developing faster than any other part of the market and, in the right locations, coffee bars can be very profitable,” said David Williamson, managing director of Matthew Algie.