Sam's own Member's Mark bagged coffee was the first fair trade item sold. Photos courtesy of SAM’S CLUB
Consumers might not think a club store that sells mayonnaise by the gallon could also be a leader in the fair trade movement, but Sam’s Club would beg to differ.
Over the past few years, the Bentonville, Ark.-based division of Wal-Mart Stores has become a champion of fair trade on a bulk scale, increasing its assortment of certified products and promoting the benefits they provide to shoppers. Starting with its Members Mark line of private-label coffee in 2007, the company has expanded the number of items bearing the label to include single-serve coffee pods, bananas, dried cherries, mangos and bell peppers.
The bakery department has also become a stronghold for fair trade, with items offered under the retailer’s Artisan Fresh line, including angel food cake and banana nut bread, now bearing the label.
Other club stores have shown interest too, particularly in the coffee category. BJ’s Wholesale Club sells an 80-pack of Green Mountain Coffee “Columbia Fair Trade Select” pods, while Costco carries pods of Newman’s Own coffee along with its own Kirkland Signature bagged coffee certified under fair trade.
“At the end of the day, it’s about giving our members access to the products they know and love,” said David Walker, senior brand manager with Sam’s Club.
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Looking at surveys and sales data, it’s clear the fair trade label is indeed one that shoppers respond to. According to market research firm SPINS, sales of fair trade-certified products in the second quarter of this year were up 34% from the same period a year ago. Recent reports have shown that category sales increase by as much as 13% when fair trade products get added to the mix, and that nearly a third of shoppers report the label is likely to increase their interest in purchasing a product.
But club stores’ interest in fair trade goes beyond just the label’s popularity. Battered by environmentalists and eco-minded consumers critical of their large size, companies like Sam’s Club are also hoping to burnish their reputation as responsible corporate citizens.
“They’re trying to sharpen their image with consumers as being more socially and environmentally aware, and they’re asking their suppliers to do the same,” said Rob Bousquet, a shopper marketing manager with Green Mountain Coffee who works with club stores.