a bottle of FAIR vodka made from quinoa
Credit: FAIR

Introduction: Fairtrade Fortnight Fair Drinks Brand Spotlight

Regular readers know that I like to support ethical brands. So for Fairtrade Fortnight I am trying to help raise awareness of consumer choice. To do this, I am showcasing ethical, fairtrade brands. This post is a Fairtrade Fortnight Fair Drinks Brand Spotlight. FAIR is a drinks company who are fairtrade pioneers in their industry. For example, they are the first to make a fairtrade vodka. They also have a range of other spirits and liqueurs which are also made with fairtrade ingredients. You can choose FAIR at Waitrose or Ocado. I’m speaking to FAIR’s sales director Paul Bungener about the journey from concept to trailblazing brand.

How did FAIR get started?

FAIR was started in 2009 by Alexandre Koiransky and I (Paul Bungener) joined 3 months later. We wanted FAIR spirits to be made in the Cognac region of France because it’s famous for the quality of it’s production. It was challenging however, to convince producers to work with a start-up when they typically worked with prestigious international brands. It took 18 months of going from one producer to another, but we found one willing to try us and they’ve not looked back.

How has FAIR developed over the 12 years?

a black and white photograph of a farmer in the developing world for Fairtrade Fortnight Fair Drinks
Credit: FAIR

We’ve always had a small core team, a handful of people. We outsource the production and distribution, and have taken time to build good relationships. We take care in developing our spirits using the best fairtrade ingredients. I spend time promoting our products, for example I lived for a few years in the USA, building the brand there. Our spirits have won many awards, which has made them popular globally.

Is it challenging to create fairtrade spirits?

No, not really. We wanted to create the world’s first fairtrade vodka, so we approached the fairtrade foundation and asked about which grains are fairtrade. There is only quinoa, so we chose to make quinoa vodka. The fairtrade foundation has strict rules about awarding certification, so for example we had a few varieties of rum but we now only make Belize rum. This is because the other countries began to fall below the required standard of care for their sugar cane farmers, so fairtrade revoked their certification.  We also wanted to create a fairtrade gin and fairtrade juniper (an essential ingredient in gin) comes only from Uzbekistan. It then turns out that a neighbouring cooperative of farmers to our Uzbek juniper growers, produce fairtrade certified goji berries, so we are able to include them as ingredients too.

What to you are the key aspects of fairtrade?

There are 3 key aspects to our fairtrade production. Firstly, we pay farmers above market rate for their produce. Secondly 2.5% of our turnover is invested in promoting fairtrade, so that consumers know they can choose to support the developing world when they shop. Thirdly, there is a 15% fairtrade premium which we pay towards social and environmental initiatives. The former include better working conditions, access to healthcare and education. There is a drive to support young people and create entrepreneurial opportunities so they can create a better society at home, rather than becoming economic migrants and facing very harsh or even dangerous living conditions. The environmental projects include initiatives to protect the land, for example ensuring it stays organic.

 Fairtrade Fortnight Fair Drinks a small bottle of FAIR cafe liqueur with coffee beans in an arc in frontOrganic farming often goes hand in hand with fairtrade, why is it important?

In the developed world the use of pesticides and other chemicals led to higher farming yields. Which meant a more plentiful supply and greater profits. Over time however, it became clear that this type of farming was damaging to the environment. The soil became depleted in nutrients and the chemicals created widespread pollution. This in turn led to a lower quality of produce, because if the soil is nutrient depleted so is anything that grows in it. Lessons have been learned and farming has returned to more organic processes, but soil restoration carries a great expense.

We want the developing world to learn from our mistakes. For thousands of years, quinoa has grown on the altiplano, an area of high plains in Bolivia, Peru, Chile and Argentina. Peru has started to use pesticides on their crops so they can harvest twice a year instead of once. Whilst their exports have now overtaken Bolivia’s, it will likely turn out to be a short-term win, with costly remediation later, much like in the developing world. Fairtrade land protection helps to ensure farming remains organic in Bolivia.

Tell me about the FAIR range of spirits and what are your plans for the future?

Credit: FAIR

Our range has grown over time, with more than 20 products offered over the last 12 years. Both the vodka and coffee liqueur our best sellers. So, looking forward we are creating a more streamlined range with a focus on our top 5 products. We are also changing the packaging, making it more premium and we will be completely plastic-free by the end of 2022. We would like FAIR to be part of people’s lifestyles, because our ethics reflect theirs. In 2022 we will have a new, niche product; I can’t reveal too much other than to say it’s ery exciting and absolutely delicious!

Fairtrade Fortnight Fair Drinks Brand Spotlight Thanks

My huge thanks to Paul for being so generous with his time and expertise. Check out Paul’s insta for the most stylish cocktail posts! If you like the sounds of Fair’s Cafe Liqueur, check out this post where I suggest 5 ways to serve it.

Have you tried FAIR drinks before? Do you have a favourite? Have you enjoyed this Fairtrade Fortnight Fair Drinks spotlight feature? Let me know in the comments below.

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