Bicycle Coffee Co. pedals fair-trade coffee
It delivers by bike and keeps overhead low so it can sell 'ethical' coffee at a competitive price.
(Page 2 of 2)
Fair trade really established itself in the world marketplace through coffee, but has since expanded to other foods – chocolate, tea, bananas, and some spices are among the most common – as well as to nonedible goods like artisan-made clothing and jewelry.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Critics' main qualm is that fair trade, at least for the coffee industry, doesn't live up to the theory behind its model. They argue that little data exists about its actual results; that the model overlooks multinational companies that may treat producers well; that regulations restrict fair trade to small farmers and overlook the poorest segment – migrant laborers; and that price standardization, coupled with a rising market price for commodity coffee, often results in low-quality fair trade coffee.
The farmers sell their high-quality goods on the commodity market, and leave the dregs for the Fair Trade price – which, in turn, roasters don't want to buy.
"Fair Trade coffee has evolved from an economic and social justice movement to largely a marketing model for ethical consumerism," says Peter Giuliano, president of the Specialty Coffee Association of America and a green coffee buyer based in Durham, North Carolina.
One solution to the discrepancies? Cut out the middle man and purchase beans directly from farmers you've visited.
That's the approach for the young founders of the Bicycle Coffee Co., which delivers coffee by bicycle to local businesses in the San Francisco Bay area that is not only fair trade, but is also organic and locally roasted. It purchases from farmers the employees meet on their travels through Central and South America. And it makes its zero-emissions deliveries by bike.
The company has advantages over other fair trade companies because with minimal overhead costs, it can sell its coffee at the same price as its non-fair trade competitors. That means a consumer does not have to make the choice to spend a premium for a fairly traded product. (Although to be fair to consumers, at least one study has shown that such a premium does not stop customers from choosing the fair trade option, even if it's more expensive, and even during a recession.)
Ultimately, the founders of Bicycle Coffee Co. aim to build a "micro-replicable business" that's easy to sustain from city to city. Check out the video to see how they're doing it.
Additional reporting by Blair Hickman
• Sign-up to receive a weekly selection of practical and inspiring Change Agent articles by clicking here.