25 July, 2019

Can I manifest Fairtrade Organic bananas in my neighborhood in DC?

Green Fairtrade Bananas
by Alli O'Connell, Marketing & Accounts Manager

Fairtrade’s Marketing & Accounts Manager Alli O’Connell shares her audacious goal to get Fairtrade bananas in her neighborhood grocery store.

First, I visualize. It’s Monday morning, and I’m preparing a banana smoothie. The bananas are adorned with Fairtrade and Organic stickers. It’s the perfect fuel for my day; I feel good about what I’m putting into my body, and about the impact it has on the planet and people where it came from.

My current reality is starkly different; there are no bananas. Since watching Equal Exchange’s “Beyond the Seal” short I have only two options: Fairtrade bananas or no bananas. The history of bananas is rotten with greed, forced labor, and environmental degradation. And the current practices of conventional bananas continue to be defined by this history. Without a Fairtrade banana supplier in my neighborhood, I’ve decided to forego bananas most weeks. But this can’t last forever. Bananas are the worlds most consumed fruit, and I rely on them to start my morning off right.

Customer holding a yellow Fairtrade bananas

I popped into my DC neighborhood grocery store and asked if they ever sourced Fairtrade bananas.

“Hmm we source organic, but I don’t think we’ve ever done fair trade,” said the cashier as he rung up my bag of spinach.

“Would you all consider it?” I asked.

“I’m not sure if our distributor offers fair trade.”

“Ah, who do you use? I work at Fairtrade America and would love to have Fairtrade bananas available here.”

“Why don’t you send an email to us and we can follow up. Make sure to mention that you work at Fairtrade.”

It was either an in or an attempt to get me out the door. Either way, I was taking it.

First thing the next morning I asked my colleague Michael, our Fairtrade produce supply chain expert, what he knew about local banana distributors. He explained that there are only a handful of distributors supplying Fairtrade bananas in DC. We’d have to see what the market’s relationship was with the distributor, and what the barriers like minimum purchases and volume might be for a small neighborhood market.

The pieces are all there, I just need them to all fit together.

My first step was sending an introductory email. I tried to keep it light, loosely referencing purchasing trends and establishing myself as both a resource and customer.

I’m ready to pull out the stops in the follow ups (consumer research, alarming banana facts, or even a petition). If I don’t hear back by next week, I’ll be on the street (or NextDoor App) to collect signatures of Fairtrade banana supporters!

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