All’s Fair in Vodka and Kit Kats

To the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park hotel for the launch of Fair, “the worlds first Fairtrade Certified Vodka”. And jolly nice it is too. My first martini (ginger and lemon) was a little uneventful but the Chocolate Martini (made with Divine chocolate) and the Fairspresso Martini (using Cafédirect coffee) were both sensational. The founders of Fair Jean-Francois Daniel and Alexandre Koiransky explained how the product is made from Bolivian Fairtrade Quinoa and how it has already won Best Tasting Vodka at the New York Spirits Awards. Richard Anstead of the Fairtrade Foundation proved a capable replacement for Foundation Director Harriet Lamb (in Switzerland attending the FLO Board meeting) and welcomed Fair to the ‘Fairtrade Family” before the evening dissolved into a blur of exciteable conversations about shoe-sizes and why comedy is the new rock’n’roll.

A discussion I had with Jean-Francois has given me much to think about. Of the grain from which Fair is distilled, some is Fair Trade quinoa. The rest is wheat, for which no Fair Trade standards exist. Francois admits that his reasons for doing this are to keep the price down. Already Fair is a premium product retailing at 32.99 Euros. Apparently  a pure Quinoa product would cost double this. Making a product that is so expensive that it doesn’t sell helps no-one, least of all the disadvantaged Bolivian farmers who grow the quinoa used in Fair.

But what is the consumer perspective on this? Under Fairtrade labelling standards Fair qualifies to carry the mark by  being made from at least 50% Fairtrade ingredients. The front of the bottle clearly says “Distilled From Wheat and Fair Trade Quinoa” . Whilst there is no intention to deceive, with ethical schemes such as Fair Trade we have to be very careful that consumers do not expect more than is delivered. A good example here is a ‘Mischief’, a BBC television programme I helped to make earlier this year. At one point presenter Alex Riley is interviewing Ed Millard of the Rainforest Alliance about their agreeing to certify Galaxy chocolate. Alex makes the point that while the cocoa in Galaxy may be sustainable under RA rules the palm oil that Galaxy contains is not, and what is the point of a partly-sustainable product? Ed re-iterates that the RA can only certify the cocoa and not the palm oil, but the viewer is left with the impression of an inconsistency that could affect buying intention.

This type of inconsistency is cited by many respondents on the Fair Trade Foundation website following the announcement that Nestle are having Kit Kat certified as Fairtrade. Many posters regarded this as totally unacceptable given Nestles reputation for past dubious business practices in marketing baby milk in the South. Should that mean that Nestle cannot launch a Fairtrade product? Some posters make the point that Fairtrade regulations certify the product and not the company but it is clear to some consumers that this does not go far enough and a more holistic approach to ethics is required.

Still, Fair Trade Vodka and Fair Trade Kit Kat in the same week  – I wonder if one of Fair’s demon “mixologists” could combine the two ?

KitKatTini anyone?

PS The Fair promotional leaflet refers to Fair as being “the first Fair Trade Spirits Brand In the World”. It isn’t, because Utkins Fair Trade Rum launched first (and I helped develop it)


“Fair” Fair Trade Vodka

BBC “Mischief”

Kit Kat Announcement

Utkins Fair Trade Rum

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Simon Wright 12.11.09 at 16:18

From Abby Ray of the Rainforest Alliance

“The Rainforest Alliance is working hard on the issue of palm oil – we recently developed new standards for sustainable palm oil, but have yet to certify the first plantation (very complicated business). In the meantime, we feel that cocoa farmers should be rewarded for their efforts toward sustainable production. To find out more about our response to the show you mention, you can read our statement here: ”