When we think about fair trade fruit, often we do think of bananas. And there’s a good reason for that, which is that bananas are one of the original products that advocates were fighting for when the fair trade movement was still very young in Canada.
Thankfully, now you can get Fairtrade Certified bananas from large grocery chains like Farm Boy (in Ontario) and IGA (in Quebec). I also hear that major groceries in BC are carrying them. (If I’m missing someone, apologies! Let me know where you get your fair trade bananas in the comments!)
Because bananas are such a well-loved fruit, a lot of nasty events have surrounded them. I won’t get into all of that today, but I do really recommend the book Banana: the fate of the fruit that changed the world by Dan Koeppel. It’s a great read, and gives a detailed account of the history of bananas!
Okay, so there are two main considerations when we talk about fair trade product availability, and that includes fruit. First, we need to ask if there is a certification or verification standard set forth by a fair trade body, such as Fairtrade International, the Fair Trade Federation or Fair For Life. Second, we need to ask ourselves if a company is working to make those products available on the Canadian market. In this case, we’re blessed that a few small companies are working tirelessly to do just that! So where there are standards in place, there are typically people working to get those fruits into our supermarkets! This is very clear in the case of bananas. Equifruit is championing this in Ontario and Quebec, and you can really see the success they’ve had!
What about other fair trade fruit, though? Let’s take a look at the availability (and certifications/verifications that cover each type)!
Fair trade pineapple
As evidenced by Rosette’s exclusive fair trade pineapple t-shirts, I was pretty excited when fresh fair trade pineapples became available in 2019! (Thanks, Equifruit!) To my knowledge, this has been mostly in collaboration with IGA in Quebec, so those of us elsewhere can’t benefit as easily. But it was still super exciting to see that Fairtrade International was certifying Equifruit’s supply chain for pineapples!
For now, the most widely-available fair trade pineapple product in Canada is the Level Ground dried pineapple. This is verified by the Fair Trade Federation, who also covers their other products. Their dried pineapple also offers another advantage: less opportunity for food waste! Fresh food spoils more quickly, of course, so dried fruit will keep much longer and help us avoid waste. But honestly, I’ve never had that problem. Level Ground’s dried pineapple is one of my all-time favourite snacks. So it’s gone way before the word “spoil” even comes to mind!
There is also another pineapple product that’s fair trade-adjacent. Cha’s Organics, who works primarily with Fair For Life, offers a lot of fair trade products. But their organic canned pineapple doesn’t carry a fair trade symbol. Cha’s was one of the original 100% fair trade businesses in Canada. So my gut tells me that the pineapple still approaches fair trade standards, even though it’s not certified. This may mean that the Fair For Life system is still working out their pineapple certification standards. Or maybe the canning process presents unique challenges. I’m not sure. What I do know is that there is no certified canned pineapple on the Canadian market. It could be a reflection of the certifying process, more than the company’s trading practices. So if you need canned pineapple, why not go for a company like Cha’s Organics, who does use fair trading practices wherever possible? If it’s been part of their business model since the start, often companies will be doing really great work even when they don’t get the recognition associated with the label.
Fair trade mango
The Level Ground dried mango is one of the most popular fair trade fruit options in Canada! And for good reason! These little packets are just exploding with the flavour of naturally-sweet mango.
Level Ground Trading is a member of the Fair Trade Federation, and that means that the whole business passes inspection. The Federation looked at Level Ground and said, “Your business is an ethical one, so all your products are, too.” One of the main differences between fair trade certification and verification is that verification is usually company-wide. Typically, certification will cover a specific product. But verification is the word we use for membership-based organizations. Both the Fair Trade Federation and the World Fair Trade Organization are membership-based. So when Level Ground became a member of the Federation, all of their products became fair trade.
Similarly to the pineapple situation, Level Ground helps us reduce food waste! Dried mango keeps much longer and is so convenient! So it’s great to take along as a snack. The mango is one of Rosette’s best-sellers!
If you’re lucky and you have dedicated fair trade advocates running a local business, you might also find fresh mangoes! I have sometimes gotten fair trade mangoes in my produce box from GoodFood2u in Ottawa, and I’m sure there are other companies doing great work like this!
Once again, canned mango is available from Cha’s Organics. This comes with the same caveat as above. The fair trade symbol isn’t on the package, but that doesn’t necessarily preclude fair trading practices. And they’re the best option we have right now, I wager!
Fair trade avocado
You might be thinking, “But wait! We’re talking about fruit!” But of course, avocado is technically a fruit! It’s also very hard to find in fair trade form. (Well, at least in Ottawa. Though again, GoodFood2u sometimes has them.)
To the best of my knowledge, there is a company in Western Canada called Discovery Organics. And this company is working to get fair trade fruit (like avocados) into grocery stores. But so far, avocados are a rare beast in Eastern Canada.
It doesn’t help that when people think of fair trade fruit, they usually think of bananas or pineapples. That’s great, but avocados also provide crucial income for fair trade producers! It seems like the gap in this situation is on the (Eastern) Canadian side. Why aren’t we demanding fair trade avocados and (crucially) buying them? Consumer choices also really strongly affect what companies can do. Fair trade companies are by definition usually small. And if they can’t afford to stay in business, they can’t do their important work! This is why our choices as consumers are so crucial!
Other fair trade fruits
From time to time, I see other fair trade fruit options. Most often, this is in a produce basket from our local fair trade produce champions, GoodFood2u. I’ve occasionally seen fair trade kiwis and blueberries, for example. (I believe both were Chilean.)
When it comes to fair trade, Canada is a bit behind. In Europe, they have fair trade orange juice from South America & Ghana. They have apple juice from China. This is the main reason we import fair trade products from Oxfam Fair Trade in Belgium. They simply offer more selection! And these offerings are the direct result of higher sales of fair trade products. In Europe, fair trade fruit and other products are more popular and common. How do we get to that point in Canada, so that companies can offer more options?
I’m sure you can guess what my answer is: put our money where our values are! If we buy less but also buy more intentionally, we can afford to choose ethical products more often. And when we purchase a more valuable item, we treat it as such. We don’t let that fair trade pineapple go to mush in our fridge, as we might do with the one we got on sale for $1.99. Fair trade is a win-win-win! You can feel good about your consumer choices. Companies can fund their important work. Producers are paid a dignified wage for their work. What’s there not to like? 🙂
But shouldn’t I buy local fruit?
Yes! Please buy local fruit. Let me know when you find those local bananas. 😉
Jokes aside, many of the fair trade fruit options are available exactly because Canada can’t grow them. We can’t grow bananas, mangoes, pineapples, avocados or even oranges. Often, when you look at grocery labels, our produce is coming from the developing world anyway. So unless you go 100% local (goodbye, warm-climate fruit!), buying fair trade is still the more ethical choice.
That being said, please do support your local farmers as well! In season, there’s nothing better than a ripe, local strawberry! In the autumn, those beautiful apples and peaches are unbeatable! For fruits that can be grown locally, it’s always best to shop small and shop local.
Fair trade fruit in a nut shell
We depend heavily on warm-climate fruits like bananas and pineapples and avocados. If we’re going to eat these fruits, the ethical decision is to support fair trade. This way, the supply chain isn’t maximizing profit at the expense of the little guy at the other end of the chain.
Much as small Canadian farmers deserve to earn a living wage for their produce, small international farmers deserve this, too.
What can I do today?
Choose fair trade fruit whenever you can! This way, we can make the important work of small, fair trade businesses worthwhile! They can continue advocating for fair trade availability in small and large stores across Canada. By purchasing fair trade bananas in your small, local health food store, you’re increasing the demand for this fruit. This means that the supplier has data to show bigger companies. They can say, “Do you see how much this is selling in small stores? You aren’t getting any of that pie!” This is how change slowly happens!
Your small decisions as a consumer can have a huge impact! #ChooseFairtrade this Fairtrade Month (and beyond)!