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Last Updated: Friday, 7 October 2005, 14:19 GMT 15:19 UK
Nestle launches fair trade coffee
Coffee grower tending his crop
Nestle says it is helping "some of the poorest farmers in the world"
Nestle has launched a fair trade instant coffee as it looks to tap into growing demand among consumers.

The firm is the first of the four major global coffee firms - the others are Kraft, Sara Lee, and Procter & Gamble - to put out such a product in the UK.

Ethical shopping is an increasing trend in the UK, as consumers pay more to ensure poor farmers get a better deal.

But the involvement of a leading multinational has proved controversial among the aid and development workers.

'Turning point'

The decision represents a turn-around for the Fairtrade Foundation which has endorsed the move.

This represents a fundamental, serious commitment to help some of the poorest farmers

"This is a turning point for us and for the coffee growers," said Harriet Lamb, director of the Fairtrade Foundation, which helps regulate and mark fair trade products.

"This just shows what we, the public, can achieve," she said. "Here is a major multinational listening to people and giving them what they want."

Development charity Oxfam cautiously welcomed the move, but said that it was only a small step in the right direction.

'Overhaul business'

But the World Development Movement, a campaigning group which tackles the causes of poverty, said: "The launch of a Nestle Fairtrade coffee is more likely to be an attempt to cash in a growing market... than represent the beginning of a fundamental shift in Nestle's business model."

It called on Nestle to "alter its business practices, lobbying strategies, and radically overhaul its business to ensure that all coffee farmers get a fair return for their efforts".

Nestle's new coffee tin
Nestle's new blend is made from beans from El Salvador and Ethiopia

Nestle said that while its decision has been driven by the consumer, it is committed to providing coffee growers with a fairer price for their product.

"This represents a fundamental, serious commitment to help some of the poorest farmers in the world," the company said.

'Growing enormously'

Nestle said it already gets 14% of its total coffee needs directly from growers, and that it chose to buy its fair trade beans from El Salvador and Ethiopia because they were two countries where farmers were "suffering".

The new Nescafe Partners' Blend will be made from Arabica beans and is expected to retail at 2.69 for a 100g tin.

"Fair Trade is quite clearly growing enormously in terms of its awareness," said Fiona Kendrick, Nestle's UK head of beverages.

"Specifically in terms of coffee, fair trade is 3% of the instant market and has been growing at good double-digit growth and continues to grow."

Other companies have also recognised the importance of ethical brands.

Proctor and Gamble launched a FairTrade coffee brand in the United States in 2004 under its Millstone label.

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