UK retailers are failing to meet the growing demand for fairtrade products, the findings of a new survey by Fruit Passion have suggested.

According to the survey, fairtrade has emerged as the most popular category in the growing ethical consumer goods market, with consumers almost twice as supportive of fairtrade goods than organic products. When consumers from across the UK were questioned, 41% of respondents cited fairtrade as their top priority, while 23% prioritised organic goods. One person in three would be happy if every item of shopping they purchased was fairtrade.

However, Fruit Passion suggested that the segment is failing to meet its potential because retailers are overlooking its appeal.

“Retailers have a great opportunity to satisfy consumer demand and in doing so both the retailers and consumers will be doing a tremendous amount to support producers and growers in developing countries,” Rob Spencer, marketing and business development director at Fruit Passion, commented.

Organic food sales total GBP1.2bn (US$2.3bn) a year, while fairtrade sales just exceed the GBP230m mark. Current predictions suggest that fairtrade sales will total about GBP550m in five years’ time, but this is still less than half the present level of organic sales, Fruit Passion observed.

The survey also found that extra cost, commonly thought to be offputting for consumers, is unlikely to inhibit the potential fairtrade boom, with more than 65% of people stating they would expect to pay 10-30% extra for fairtrade products. In actual fact, the average increase is generally much lower than this, Fruit Passion suggested.

Lack of choice and availability were given as a key reason why shoppers do not buy more fairtrade products. 

The report’s authors highlighted the disparity between retailers’ organic and fairtrade offerings. Tesco currently stocks 14,000 organic products and only around 100 fairtrade products, while Asda has around 900 organic products and stocks 55 fairtrade products and Sainsbury’s currently stocks more than 1,000 lines of organic produce compared with 75 fairtrade goods.

A spokesman for Sainsbury’s said: “We have seen fairtrade sales increase by 70% in the past year. Our customers are definitely responding to the fairtrade market which has seen a similar growth trend to organic produce this year.”