Trade Aid now coffee central

Last updated 05:00 31/05/2014
TradeAid's Justin Purser

ROAST: Coffee and Food Manager Justin Purser says the company has been boosted by a growing enthusiasm for ethical and organic goods.

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Trade Aid started small - with a few Tibetan rugs imported by a Christchurch couple in 1970.

Today, however, they're a key player in New Zealand's booming coffee market, and the largest fair trade importer in the country.

Christchurch couple Vi and Richard Cottrell started Trade Aid as a way of supporting trade with underdeveloped countries.

The company now imports just over 1000 tonnes of green (unroasted) coffee beans every year, and works out of a cavernous warehouse in Christchurch - 3000 square metres filled with coffee bean sacks and the sweet smell of cocoa liquor.

Coffee and Food Manager Justin Purser says the company has been boosted by a growing enthusiasm for ethical and organic goods.

"New Zealanders have become much more concerned with where their products have come from in recent decades - that's certainly been the driver for the growth we've seen in the food side over the last 10 years."

The company began by importing handcrafts, but their craft imports were superseded by food in the mid 2000s, and edibles now make up about two thirds of their products.

The company imports entirely Fair Trade certified goods - guaranteeing a minimum price for developing-world producers, along with a host of other ethical and environmental protections.

Far from being a "feel-good" niche, Fair Trade coffee has hit the Kiwi mainstream, and Purser believes the company is the nation's second-largest importer overall - holding an 18 per cent slice of the market.

As well as hitting the ethical market, coffee roasters have strong business reasons to improve the coffee trade, as caffeine cravers look to ensure future supply of their drug of choice.

The average coffee farmer owns just two hectares of land, and is at the mercy of fluctuating prices which often fall below production costs, Purser says.

As coffee trees age, bean supply dwindles - but few farmers can afford to pull out part of their farm for the four years required for new trees to mature.

Disease and climate challenges also regularly threaten crops, and the specialty coffee roasters which dominate New Zealand cafes face challenges securing quality supply. "The future supply of our higher quality coffees is endangered - and that is widely recognised by the industry," Purser says.

In this environment, ethical trade and support plans for small scale producers have become increasingly part of the business landscape.

Trade Aid supplies 80 coffee roasteries, and roasts their own blend locally, through c4 Roasteries.

While Fair Trade coffee is the importer's largest product, and has driven much of their overall growth, Purser believes it is now in a stage of maturing.

The company wants to expand its other food products, including sugar, cocoa, spices and chocolate.

Independent auditor FairTrade Australia New Zealand managing director Steve Knapp said Trade Aid had been a "big contributor to the growth and awareness of fair trade in New Zealand".

"They've done an excellent job. One of the reasons fair trade is so widely recognised and successful in New Zealand is the presence of Trade Aid."

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Trade Aid New Zealand is a larger, non-profit "movement," which covers education, advocacy, and 32 shops around the country - each shop has its own trust.

- Stuff

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