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Fairtrade wines need to do more to convince restaurateurs

Published:  21 October, 2011

Restaurants might be serving Fairtrade coffee as a matter of course, but the logo is failing to persuade on-trade buyers to add ethical wines to their list.

Leading suppliers and producers have warned that a vital step change in awareness of Fairtrade wine is needed if sales are to grow beyond the supermarkets.

Lucy Warner, Thierry's South Africa portfolio manager, said Fairtrade wines have "little recognition" in the eating and drinking out sector. "The potential to develop a brand that is Fairtrade for the on-trade is enormous. The demand is there and restaurateurs are really missing a trick. You only have to compare how much Fairtrade coffee and sugar there is in cafés to see how huge the potential is," she added.

"If organisations are supporting Fairtrade coffee, they should be supporting wine," agreed Paul Hinks, retail sales director of International Brands.

The biggest obstacle Fairtrade wine faces is that consumers think they're cheap, according to Iain Muggoch, Bibendum's director of buying for the Southern Hemisphere. "Unlike categories such as chocolate and coffee where premium brands have adopted Fairtrade, wine consumers only see the logo on bottles of inexpensive supermarket wine," he said. "Until we break the consumer perception that Fairtrade wine equals cheap and of limited quality, the sector is going to struggle."

He said that allowing brands to leave the large Fairtrade logo off the front label would help change customers' perception. It acts as "a barrier to gaining listings", he said, and indicates to buyers "the wine is cheap rather than fair".

Fairtrade wine has become "very off trade-centric," agreed Jon Woodriffe, sales director at Origin Wine. The firm is working with Matthew Clark to increase the range and offering of Fairtrade wines, including partnership activity during Fairtrade Fortnight (February 27 to March 11, 2012) and at the Hotel Olympia trade show.

Restaurants' wariness of listing Fairtrade wines will lessen in the long-term, believes Alliance wine buyer Garech Byrne. "The second generation of Fairtrade wines that are now coming through - wines where the emphasis is on quality rather than whether the wines are Fairtrade or not - will become more relevant to the on-trade in the future," he said.