Scotland business

Fairtrade route 'is just right' for coffee company

Going down the Fairtrade route is "just the right thing to do", insists Gordon Muir who is sales and marketing director of Glasgow coffee company Matthew Algie.

Mr Muir said one of the firm's big commitments was to grow its share of the Fairtrade market each year.

About 80% of the Gorbal's based company's coffee is Fairtrade - the biggest it has ever been.

Matthew Algie was founded in 1864 and sell its coffee to cafes and hotels throughout the UK with customers which include Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury's and Gleneagles.

The firm roasted the UK's first Fairtrade espresso beans in 1997.

It maintains that there are business as well as ethical reasons for buying Fairtrade.

This year the coffee crop is down about 30% and that has pushed up prices.

Gordon Muir said: "The price is good for farmers at the moment but it will come down and what Fairtrade does is guarantee a minimum price with some social investment which means whatever the price, they have a future in coffee.

"We've seen in the past with some good quality coffee producers if there's a dip then some producers get put off coffee which is a real issue for us because we want to buy the Fairtrade coffee and we need security of supply."

Living standards

Ewan Reid is the company's technical director and he's just returned from a sourcing trip to Ethiopa looking for new coffees and new flavours for the season.

He's been visiting the country for 10 years and has been working with Oromio's Farmers' Co-operative Union, just outside Addis Ababa.

A decade ago coffee prices slumped in producing countries with devastating consequences, but Mr Reid said he had witnessed a vast improvement in living standards.

Image caption About 80% of Matthew Algie's coffee is Fairtrade

He explained: "After the coffee crisis we saw malnutrition, lack of schools and medical facilities and no vehicles or bikes, but we're now starting to see bikes in the community, medical services and schools on the ground and even motorcycles.

"There are real tangible differences, I don't have to see an audit report. It's not a charity on our behalf - it's about a business relationship.

"We buy the coffee and we pay a fair price for that and with the structures in place, the community benefits."

Fairtrade is not without its critics with retailers accused of using the logo to mark up the price with little of the premium trickling down to farmers.

However, the consumer appetite for Fairtrade products soared last year - up by 40% to more than £1bn.

The Fairtrade Foundation said that every day in the UK people drink 6.4 million cups of Fairtrade coffee.

Barbara Crowther of the foundation said: "What we've seen recently when working with bigger companies is that they haven't been marking up the price.

"Some fair trade products do cost a bit more but you're getting a lot more - you are paying a few pence more but it's making a much bigger difference."

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