Monday, May 20, 2019

Hunting for Fair Trade Products at Costco

UPDATE August, 2023. Costco House Blend Coffee is no longer certified fair trade.

Yes, I'm all about fair trade. Obviously! So much of my time and energy is wrapped up with designing and marketing Dunitz & Company's fair trade jewelry collection. But, I also think about fair trade when I'm making daily purchases.  And that's why on a recent trip to Costco Wholesale (in Burbank CA) to tank up with gasoline and buy some staples, I decided to investigate what fair trade products this big box store actually sells.

I've stumbled upon a few fair trade items at Costco in the past. I typically I post my finds on Instagram. But on this trip, I decided to delve deeper. I approached the service desk, you know, the one you usually see after you've checked out. I first spoke with a supervisor, who then turned me over to the manager on duty. Guess what? These guys didn't know about fair trade. After a mini-lesson, I suggested that they might keep a list, or suggest that their marketing department compile one. I left my card and started my hunt.

Dr. Bronner's Soap
I knew I'd purchased some Dr. Bronner's peppermint all-purpose  castile soap at Costco in the past. Now that's fair trade certified. (They're also members of Fair Trade Federation, right along with Dunitz & Company.) While scouting for the display, I started up a conversation with another staff member on the floor. She explained that Costco had been making huge strides in carrying "Organic" products. (This absolutely became clear to me as I studied their endless aisles.) She also thought that some other locations might carry a few more fair trade items than I discovered based on consumer demand. But seriously folks, Burbank is surrounded by many affluent neighborhoods. Let's put the pressure on!

Kirkland House Blend
As of August, 2023, Kirkland House Blend sourced from Starbucks is no longer certified fair trade.

Let's talk coffee. Even if they don't purchase it, just about everyone has heard of fair trade coffee. And this is why I'm pleased to report that Costco's private label, Kirkland offers a fair trade certified house blend. I've actually been buying it and drinking it for a long time. This medium roast offering is quite good. But before this trip, I'd never taken the time to examine all of  their other options. Costco offers designer brands such as Starbucks and Peet's. And yes, they also sell Folgers and Jose's among others. And sadly no other coffee options offered at Costco is fair trade. I guess that's supply and demand at work. Shame on Starbucks and Peet's. I know they sell fair trade coffee at their corner shops.

Lots of Fair Trade Tomatoes
Costco earns an A, well maybe a B+ when it comes to tomatoes. Out of 4 varieties of tomatoes being sold, 3 of them were fair trade certified. Hooray! Campari. Hot House. A designer medley of what looks like small heirlooms. All these were being imported from Mexico.

Harmless Coconut Water
It wasn't easy finding more fair trade offerings. But, I kept on keeping on. And, of several coconut (everything) options sold at Costco, I found one that was fair trade certified. Coconut everything is right on trend. Everyone seems to be consuming it in one form or another. I discovered lots of coconut products while hunting at Costco.  One brand of coconut water, Harmless Harvest proudly showed off their Fair for Life emblem.

Acai The Original
Looked and looked for more fair trade drinks. Truth is, I found lots of certified organic ones. And only one other with Fair for Life certification. Acai Amazon Superfood Juice from Sambazon. Seems Costco sells several products produced by Sambazon. The others I found were certified organic, but without a fair trade label. But heck, I say go for it, if you like this stuff. Maybe I need to buy some on my next trip to Costco and give it a taste.

Honest Tea

Before embarking on this trip, I went online to see if I could find any articles about Costco and the fair trade items they sell. I swear, I did my homework. I actually came up with two things (yes, only two) I wanted to see in person when I arrived. And then I couldn't find them. Before I started walking the aisles, I asked the store manager about Honest Tea. Evidently, Honest Tea uses fair trade certified tea leaves and sugar cane. Costco advertises that they sell it at their Business Centers. It was not sold at my local Costco. Who knows? Maybe some of their other larger stores carry it. Do you want to buy it as your local Costco? Start asking for it.

Good Farms Strawberries
Finally, in advance of my trip, I had read that Costco carried fair trade strawberries and other berries supplied by Driscoll's. I'd even seen photos online with Driscoll's containers featuring fair trade certified labels. Evidently a small but growing portion of what they sell is fair trade certified. I found stacks of Driscoll's containers at Costco. Sadly none of them had fair trade labeling.  I did however, discover something I'd never seen before.  Costco had strawberries from a company, Good Farms which featured an Equitable Food Initiative label "Responsibly Grown, Farmworker Assured." Wow. That was a new one for me. I had to look it up. Evidently EFI certifies farms throughout North America based on rigorous standards for labor practices, food safety and  pest management. Looks like I'll support Good Farms next time I visit Costco.

Added 11/26/19 after a trip to Costco. Yes, I braved the holiday shopping crowd this past weekend. I wasn't looking for gifts, but for some staples for my home. In any case, I discovered a perfect holiday gift while there. Deavas Belgian Chocolates was offering a beautifully wrapped box of candy which proudly boasted a fair trade certified label. I was so pleased to see it, I bought a box. No reviews yet because I haven't dug into it yet.

So, there you have it. Now you too can discover, and purchase these fair trade items at your local Costco. Vote with your dollars. By favoring and purchasing their fair trade products, perhaps they'll offer others. Let them know you want more options. Get online and "chat" with their support staff. Or send Costco customer service a letter. They don't seem to have email support.

Just so you know, Costco does have a page on their website explaining efforts they are making in traceability and sustainability for their Kirkland Signature brand.  It sure looks good and sounds good. For my post though, I wanted to find merchandise with attached fair trade labeling we recognize.

Want to know more about the various organizations that certify products? Fair World Project, a group that advocates for small producers has a helpful guide on their website. I recommend you check it out.

If you discover other fair trade items at Costco, please let me know. I might want to try them out. And I will certainly share your discovery here. Consider sharing my blog on social media. You can even hover over our pin design at the right (if you are on a computer and not an iPad) and easily share it on Pinterest. -ND