Inspiration for your Holiday Sale Display

We collected some of our favorite creative, yet simple display ideas for Holiday Sales! Check them out on our Pinterest Board>> and view inspirational examples below.

Use Inexpensive & Attractive Display Materials 

A sparkling, lighted display draws in shoppers, using wooden crates to add height and extra shelving. We also offer chocolate and tea racks for purchase. Garlands can drape the front of your table. You can bring greenery and pine cones indoors for a gorgeous, natural and economical display. Burlap coffee bags make an eye-catching table cloth or backdrop that couldn’t be more relevant to the products you’re featuring! Order authentic burlap bags that were used to transport coffee beans to Equal Exchange for $2 each.

 

While you’re at it, why not add on some free promotional materials like posters, pamphlets, stickers and comic books for your table? We recommend promoting your sale early to drum up excitement. Putting up our holiday sale poster with your event details and getting the word out using our e-newsletter template is a great way to do this. We’ve also created a shareable photo collection. Pull holiday images to make your own promo materials.

 

Showcase Equal Exchange Products in Ready-to Gift Ways

Pre-assembled gift baskets full of fairly traded goodies for people who want gifts to grab and go. Offer a variety of price points to fit every budget. Themed baskets like a “Baker’s Basket” including chocolate chips, baking cocoa, olive oil and high cacao content chocolate bars make choosing gifts fun and easy.

 

Move over, wine! Suggest a bottle of organic, fairly traded Palestinian Olive Oil as a unique & meaningful gift.  Tea-towels or silk scarves from the thrift store make beautiful and reusable gift wrap.

Don’t forget to order our free gift tags that can be attached to the bottles to give the gift recipients more information about this very special olive oil!

 

 

Our chocolate minis packaging kit contains 35 acrylic bags that can be filled with 25 dark chocolate minis. Add holiday stickers and voila! We find that $8 a bag is a fair price that covers your costs with a bit extra left as profit. Recommend them to shoppers as the perfect “little something” for a teacher, mail-person or neighbor.

 

Sell Other Fair Trade Items that Coordinate with Equal Exchange Products 

Cappuccino ornament from Ten Thousand Villages

Serving trays, coffee mugs, and cup cozies from the Fair Trade organization Ten Thousand Villages complement coffee, tea and cocoa and make perfect add-ons at your sale table. If you want to include more crafts at your sale, Ten Thousand Villages has an extensive selection of Fair Trade garlands, ornaments and nativities that can be purchased at discounted prices for groups who want to offer crafts for sale at events on consignment.

 

Attract Customers and Increase Sales 

Break up a chocolate bar into bite-sized pieces and offer samples of flavors people may not have tried, like our wildly popular Lemon, Ginger and Black Pepper,  Panama Extra Dark 80% or Milk Chocolate with Caramel Crunch and Sea Salt. They won’t be able to resist picking up a few bars for themselves as well as for gifts!

Brew up a carafe of coffee or hot cocoa for samples. Equal Exchange has compostable 4oz size sample cups and airpot labels so folks know what they’re tasting and can buy it from your table. If samples aren’t in your budget, charge just enough to cover your costs (about $0.15 per cup on average ). You could even charge a little more and use this as a fundraiser for your group.

 

Did you know that our best seller, Organic Breakfast Blend coffee, is the perfect coffee to feature at your sale? It’s not only most popular… it’s also our lowest-priced coffee! Your group makes a profit while offering a high-quality, fairly traded coffee for less than what most stores charge. And buying Equal Exchange coffee helps small-scale farmers stay on their land, supports your own organization and members get delicious coffee at a great price. What shopper could pass that up?

 

 DIY Gift Ideas 

Feeling crafty? Fill tin-tie bags with whole bean coffee from bulk 5lb bags and decorate the bags with stickers and markers. Tie chocolate bars with ribbon and sell them as a bundle with a price incentive like 5 for $15. You’ll sell more and customers have an instant gift.

Try your hand at creating a bunch of “tea-trees” with green and peppermint tea bags for fun gifts that also double as display! Or pre-assemble the ingredients needed to make Fair Trade brownies or cookies in mason jars and include the recipe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love to bake? Offer treats made with Equal Exchange products for sale. Browse recipes made with fairly traded, organic ingredients like chocolate caramel pecan pie!

 

Learn more: Holiday Sale Tips>> and ideas for making Fair Trade gift baskets >> 

Share your displays with us!

Tag @equalexchange on Facebook or Instagram  when you post your photos.

Who Grows Your Chocolate? An Update

You probably already know that cacao is the crop from which cocoa and chocolate are made. West African countries like Ghana and Côte d’Ivôire produce most of the world’s cacao. Starting a few years ago, labor abuses in West Africa began to get international attention. You may have heard about poverty wages, unsafe working conditions, the worst forms of child labor and even modern-day slavery. You may have heard that farming practices that damage the environment were common, too. But what’s going on with that now? Have things gotten any better? Let’s take a look at the current state of affairs in the chocolate industry, and what you can do to help.

 

Shop Fair Trade Chocolate Now >>

 

A split cacao pod. Chocolate is made from the dried and fermented seeds of this plant.

Taking the Measure of the Cacao Industry

Every two years, a global consortium of organizations, including Green America, the International Labor Rights Forum and Oxfam, publishes a report called The Cocoa Barometer.  Though minor progress has been made in the industry in recent years, the 2018 Cocoa Barometer doesn’t show much good news on the horizon for cacao farmers. As the executive summary puts it, “If business as usual continues, it will be decades – if ever – before human rights will be respected and environmental protection will be a basis for sustainability in the [cacao] sector.”

Here are some of the biggest challenges:

The price of the crop is currently low and unstable.

Between September 2016 and February 2017, the price of cocoa cratered, dropping from around $3,000 per ton to below $1,900 per ton. Smallholder farmers are most vulnerable to price drops and, without a guaranteed minimum price, they bear all the risks of a volatile market. They can’t afford it! A report by Fairtrade International calculates that farmers in Côte d’Ivôire earn an average income of just $0.78 per day. That’s 37% of what’s considered a living income in rural Côte d’Ivôire.

A map of the countries of West Africa
Map of West Africa by Peter Fitzgerald.

Cocoa still exploits children.

Though growing and harvesting cacao can be hazardous for anyone, the report estimates that in West Africa alone, over 2.1 million children currently perform this work. The 2018 Barometer reports that “not a single company or government is anywhere near reaching the sector-wide objective of the elimination of child labour, and not even near their commitments of a 70% reduction of child labour by 2020.” In fact, the number of young workers has risen in recent years. The report notes that because child labor “is a symptom of deeper problems, it will not be eradicated without tackling systemic poverty.”

Some workers don’t get paid at all.

Financial insecurity can exacerbate the worst form of child labor — slavery. Green America reports that sometimes, farming families “are in such dire means of desperation for the money companies contracted by the chocolate industry promise, that they sell their own children into the illegal and inhumane child labor industry.” The Food Empowerment Project cites Abby Mills, Campaign Director of the International Labor Rights Forum, who says “every research study ever conducted in [Western Africa] shows that there is human trafficking going on, particularly in the Ivory Coast.”

Cacao farming contributes to deforestation in West Africa.

Historically, cacao has been a slash-and-burn crop. But global cacao production has increased fourfold since 1960 and now, more than ninety per cent of the region’s original forests have been destroyed. The Barometer attributes this damage to a combination of “corporate disinterest in the environmental effects of the supply of cheap cocoa, and to an almost completely absent government enforcement of environmentally protected areas.”

 

Individual Decisions Matter

These problems are hard to tackle — and big corporations aren’t doing enough. The Hershey Company, Kraft Foods, Mars Incorporated and Nestle signed the Harkin-Engel Protocol in 2001, showing they were aware of the problem and resolving to take action. But as the continued rise of child labor in the cocoa industry shows, the Protocol has failed.

What can we do, as individuals? Here are some suggestions for disrupting the “business as usual” attitude that the Cocoa Barometer talks about.

You can tell your friends about what’s happening in the West African chocolate industry. Show them the 2018 Cocoa Barometer or Equal Exchange’s Chocolate Infographic.

You can let big companies know that you care about this issue and that you’re paying attention to how they handle it! Write to Harkin-Engel Protocol signatories, or tag them on social media. These big players need to hear from customers that abusive practices aren’t acceptable, so that they have motivation to change their systems.

You can opt out of chocolate produced by the worst forms of child labor and forced labor. Eat less  chocolate or — even better — switch to fair trade chocolate that’s traceable, so you can feel confident about the conditions under which it was produced. Find out which brands are rated highly on Green America’s Chocolate Scorecard.

A man and a woman proudly display cacao pods, from which organic chocolate is made.
Ramon Mosquea and Glenys Rosario are members of CONACADO, one of Equal Exchange’s partner co-ops in the Dominican Republic.

What about Equal Exchange Chocolate?

We currently source 100% of our cacao from Latin America.  We work only with democratically organized groups that are part of the fair trade system and have the vision of improving the lives of farmers and their communities. We visit our partners, with whom we’ve established personal relationships. They are not slaves or children working in inhumane conditions — they’re smallholder farmers who are proud of their work and want to sell organic cacao for delicious chocolate through a fair system. The fair trade minimum price Equal Exchange guarantees and the advance credit our partners receive helps them weather the ups and downs of the market, improve their farming practices, and plan for their families’ futures.

And you’re among the first to know about an exciting new development! Our Chocolate Team wants to share the following BREAKING NEWS:

Equal Exchange is committed to supporting authentic, transparent and democratically structured supply chains worldwide. In the context of abuses in West Africa, we have connected with a group that is working hard to create an alternative. This year we have begun a relationship with a fair trade cacao cooperative in Togo, in West Africa, and we look forward to using their beans in our products beginning as soon as Spring 2019.

Chocolate shouldn’t be cheap. It should be fairly produced, and delicious!

 

Members of the ACOPAGRO co-op in Peru and their children pose with cacao pods.

 

Why not browse Equal Exchange’s selection of  Fairly Traded and Organic Chocolate!

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Resources:

Cocoa Barometer 2018 by the Barometer Consortium.

Child Labor and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry” by The Food Empowerment Project.

 

USAID Grants and the Democracy of Information

We recently interviewed Cristina Liberati, who administers grants that support farmer cooperatives in Latin America as they improve their quality, productivity, and financial stability. Because of this project, small-scale cacao producers in rural areas can taste samples of the product they grow and assess its quality. This democratization of knowledge makes it possible for farmers to participate fully in a global market! Read the interview below to learn about how Cristina got her start in the chocolate industry, the unexpected spicy perks of international travel, and her hopes for the future of fair trade.

 

Sharing Knowledge is Good Business

Q: Hello, Cristina! What is your position at Equal Exchange?

A: My position title is the Grant Projects Manager. Grant projects have been a part of Equal Exchange’s past for some time, but starting in around 2010, Equal Exchange partnered with another chocolate company, called TCHO Chocolate, in San Francisco, to apply for a grant from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), so those are funds from the US government that are used to support projects in developing countries. And this is a multimillion dollar grant and has involved four countries in the last seven years — Peru, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, and Ecuador — and as a result of its scope and size, it’s the largest grant project that Equal Exchange has ever done.

Q: You get paid by Equal Exchange, but your work is in this sort of development realm, non-profit, aid work. Is that correct?

A: It’s a complicated question. I am a worker-owner at Equal Exchange, but for any time I spend on the grant, we actually get reimbursed by USAID.

Q: What value do you think this work has to Equal Exchange’s business?

A: Equal Exchange is a funny company in that we are a for-profit business with a social mission, and there are benefits to doing this kind of work that are not quantifiable — you can’t say “oh, well our sales tripled because we did a project in the Dominican Republic with a cacao cooperative.” But there are specific activities that we’ve done that do contribute to our commercial activities, such as improving the quality of coffee and cacao coming from particular groups, which is a clear connection to our being able to provide higher quality products to our customers. We purchase organic, and it is a major challenge for organic farmers worldwide to produce as much raw product as their neighbors who are producing with conventional methods and chemicals, so part of our project is working with small farmers to improve their productivity. Which helps us! And, finally, we work with the co-ops to improve their financial management practices. It’s always better to have a partner who is financially and managerially stable than one who is not. And unfortunately, that’s more the exception than the norm for agricultural cooperatives.

Q: What was your job before this? Your job description, which lists all your various duties, is really overwhelming! How did you get into this, how did you prepare for it, and what else have you done?

A: Before coming to Equal Exchange, I worked for TCHO Chocolate, who we partner with on the grant. I was hired there as a tour guide of the chocolate factory, and that really helped me to learn the chocolate business from the other perspective — you know, working with consumers and also having to explain production of cacao to people who know very little about it, and learning at the same time, myself. That was a great introduction into the world of chocolate. Prior to moving to San Francisco, I did go to graduate school for International Affairs, and I have lived in Latin America and studied in Latin America for a number of years. Because that’s where we primarily carry out our grant activities, knowing the language very well and knowing the culture to a certain extent helped prepare me for this work.

Cristina Liberati (far right) with a group of Equal Exchange and CONACADO partners.

10,000+ Partners

Q: The grants cover both cacao, coffee and banana farmers. All these crops may be grown in the same regions, but they’re totally different businesses. And you’re also working with project coordinators and grant consultants. What are your relationships like with all these different kinds of people? How do you balance that?

A: It’s a fun challenge, for sure. I have regular calls with each group or consultant that we work with, and that really just helps to keep on the same page of how the activities are developing. We also through our grant program helped to organize 15 different cooperative exchanges, where we brought different representatives from the farmer groups in our project together, to share information and learn about the activities they were doing and about those crops. I think my job is unique in that I get to serve as a nexus for all that information, so if I learn about how one group is, say, for example, identifying local trees with great productivity characteristics and cataloguing them, I can share  — with their permission — what they’ve learned with another group who’s interested in the same type of activity.

Q: What about your traveling?

A: I travel about 30% of the year, and oftentimes what I’m doing is visiting with the cooperatives that are part of our project to see how the activities are playing out in person. Also, to troubleshoot any issues they might be having, because sometimes it’s hard to get people to talk about challenges and issues over the phone. It’s also great to just meet face-to-face with folks every once in a while. The other primary thing that we’re doing when we’re visiting our partners or these countries is holding workshops or the exchanges that I talked about, amongst different producers.

Q: Do you have trouble keeping people straight, just because there’s so many people?

A: Not really. I’ve been working with the same people now for almost seven years. The cooperative in the Dominican Republic has 10,000 members, so I don’t know everyone. But there are teams of people that I’ve worked with over and over. On farm visits, I try to visit farmers that I have met before and some that I haven’t. I always write a trip report, so I try to go back to my trip reports to refresh my memory of people’s names if I don’t see them or talk to them often.

Q: To what extent are you accountable to USAID? Who do you feel like is your boss and what keeps you accountable to this grant?

A: That answer is pretty simple. It’s the farmers that we’re trying to serve and that are our partners. We’ve been very lucky that USAID has been supportive of the work that we’ve done and of course, like anyone who offers you money, they want you to account for that properly and would like to hear about the outcomes of the use of that money, and I think that that’s fair. I also feel accountable to the worker-owners of EE that this is a good use of our time and resources as a cooperative. But I’ll stick with my first answer as to who I feel MOST answerable to.

Fertilizer Production and Distribution Center in Cibao, DR co-financed with the USAID Co-operative Development Program and CONACADO

Tasting Chocolate — and What That Means for Co-Ops

Q: You do some quality-control work around chocolate. Is that right?

A: Yes. If I had to say I had a specialty, chocolate would be my specialty, because I did work in a chocolate factory before I came here, and it’s the crop that I know the most about, and it has been the largest focus of the grant. I’m on the Quality Control Panel at Equal Exchange, that meets once or twice a week to make sure that our chocolate is both high-quality and food safe for customers. I’m not going to complain about having to eat chocolate for my job!

Q: Equal Exchange has worked in different capacities with producers about analyzing their own products in country so that they can keep on track of whether tweaks need to be made, or how high quality their stuff is. Can you talk about that at all?

A: Sure. Beth Ann Caspersen, who’s the Quality Manager for coffee has been doing this for many years with coffee cooperatives. I do a bit more of it with cocoa cooperatives, but the ideas are the same. The way that chocolate makers analyze a sample of cocoa beans is by making it into chocolate liquor or a solid chocolate sample, and tasting it. For almost the entirety of the history of the chocolate industry, producers have been excluded from conversations about quality analysis that chocolate makers do. Through this grant and through a partnership with TCHO, we installed laboratories that would allow them to make chocolate liquor samples. And we work together with our partners to create a standardized tasting form and tools to train people to be cocoa tasters that were never publicly available before. And what these tools have allowed our partners to do is negotiate the value of their product with their clients, based on its quality. So instead of shipping a bunch of beans to a chocolate maker and then basically receiving a price from that chocolate maker that is determined by them, the producers can say, “We’ve tasted this. We know it’s worth this. And this is the price we’d like to ask you for it.” That has been a really exciting part of what we’ve done.

 

Cristina (standing, with black shirt and glasses) celebrates with a group of cacao partners.

Innovation, Hot Peppers, and the Future of Fair Trade

Q: What cool work stories do you have to share with us?

A: Last year, we decided to create what we call the Innovation Prize Program with our USAID grant and we were offering prizes up to $50,000 to cooperatives for new and novel ideas to tackle problems they had, either in quality, productivity, or what we call capitalization and one of the cooperatives that we work with called ACOPAGRO, based out of Peru, came to us with an idea for an irrigation program. The project manager there said to me, “You know, we’ve actually had this idea for some time, but couldn’t find funding for it, and I told my colleagues: ‘you know who we should ask about this? We should ask Cristina. We should ask Equal Exchange. Because they’ll listen to us and our idea.’” That felt really good.

Q: Did they get the prize?

A: They did get a prize!

Q: Can you tell me another story?

A:  I was visiting Peru, a remote community along the riverbank of the Amazon, and the community members just had this incredible energy and were doing some wonderful things. They had formerly been coca producers for cocaine, and wanted to change from illicit crops to licit crops and were supported with growing cacao by a previous project. We went and we helped with some improvements to their fermentation area and drying area. But somehow, they found out on my first visit that I really like hot peppers. And when I came back for my second visit, they offered me a whole plate of hot peppers that they had grow specially for me to try. Which was fun, but also somewhat painful!

Q: Right, ‘cause you had to eat them all!

A: I took a few bites. I think I have a picture of that somewhere.

Q: Were they good?

A: Yeah. Oh my gosh. The food in Peru is incredible, in general. And part of it is because they know how to use those peppers!

Q: What are the lessons learned from this work?

A: I’ve seen, over the past few years, that several of our partners have had to deal with natural disasters that just seem to be more frequent and more intense every time. What I’ve learned is that the resilience of the people we work with is just truly incredible. One should never underestimate the strength, the creativity and the love for the land it takes to be a farmer. I definitely had no idea of the magnitude of that before.

Q: What’s your outlook for the future of fair trade, of farming, and of these specific communities that you have gotten to know?

A: That’s a big one. I think that fair trade or alternative trade — as a strategy and a philosophy — is more and more important every day. For me, the basis of fair trade is the relationships between the people who grow our food or produce other products, and then the people who use those products. And we do have opportunities, with technology, to connect with those people in ways that weren’t options before. But on the other hand, people continue to want cheaper and cheaper options. One of my friends told me recently that her grandparents used to spend 25% of their income on their food. Nobody seems willing to do that anymore. If people aren’t willing to pay for fair food, the farmers that we work with as it is barely get by. They do it for the love of the land that I talked about. Compounded by climate change issues, I’m not sure what that means. But people will keep eating, and they seem to not get tired of chocolate and coffee. Or bananas. So we’ve got to keep fighting to do this work the right way.


This fall, we’re posting content about Food and Democracy — and the important ways they intersect — up until the U.S. primaries on November 6th. Stay up to date by following the hashtag #FoodForDemocracy on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter!


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How to Talk about Fair Trade

October is Fair Trade Month and there’s no better time to let people know why they should support Equal Exchange, a pioneer in the Fair Trade food and beverage industry in the United States. But, what do you say if people ask tough questions?  We’ve put together some talking points to help you explain why everyone should support authentic Fair Trade this month and all year long.

“I like my *insert non-Fair Trade brand product here*. Why should I switch to Equal Exchange?”

Fair Trade products from committed brands are better for farmers, better for the environment and better for ourselves. A small change, like choosing fairly traded, organic products has a real and meaningful impact in all three areas. If you want to promote social justice, environmental sustainability and fair trading relationships, buying from Equal Exchange is way to connect your values with your actions as a consumer without sacrificing taste or quality.

Introduce Equal Exchange with this 2 minute video: Who We Are and What We Believe In or put up  this colorful display sign in your office, school or place of worship to inspire others to make a change.

“Are Fair Trade products really that different from non-Fair Trade products?”

Fair Trade is a way of doing business that aims to keep small-scale farmers an active part of the world marketplace. It’s not charity – it’s a sustainable and alternative trading model that helps producers make a viable living and stay on their own land while advancing many economic, social and environmental goals. Long-term trading relationships mean income that farmers can count on, year after year. When you buy a fairly traded product from Equal Exchange you know that a stable price was paid to farmers, significantly higher than the fluctuating market price.

 By choosing Fair Trade products, you’re supporting a different kind of business model. One that is based on dignity and transparency. One without forced child labor that is not focused on profit-maximizing at the expense of others in the supply chain. Fair Trade premiums allow farming communities to decide collectively which development projects they want to use the money on, like improving access to clean water and education.  Small changes we as consumers can make regarding what we choose to buy make a real impact on the quality of the lives of producers and their families. Read a more about Fair Trade principles here.

“Do Fair Trade products cost more?”

Often Fair Trade products cost about as much as other organic and specialty-grade products of similar quality. At local farmers markets in the US, many people are willing to pay prices that reflect the hard work of small-scale farmers because they know the care that their community members put into the organic cultivation of food on their farms.  It makes sense that local farmers should make more than what it costs them to grow a product, so, the same concept should apply to products like coffee, cacao and tea that aren’t grown locally, right?

We believe a shift in perception of value needs to take place in the marketplace before Fair Trade products become the norm. Equal Exchange has been dedicated to creating an alternative trading model since 1986 and we are committed to continuing to build this movement. To help make fairly traded products affordable for everyone, we offer wholesale pricing to faith-based groups, non-profits, offices, buying clubs and schools so they can access high-quality and fairly traded products for serving and fundraising. Read more a more in-depth answer to this question here>>

“Where does the money I pay go?”

Traditional supply chains have many middle men that take a large percentage, but buying from Equal Exchange, who trades directly with small-scale farmer cooperatives, ensures that that more of the money you spend on coffee and our other products reaches the hardworking farmers who actually grow them.  In fact, by the time you purchase from Equal Exchange, the farmers have already been paid and received pre-harvest financing so they can pay for expenses when they need the money. A fairly traded product also means that the producer has received a guaranteed minimum price for their harvest, regardless of the highs and lows of the commodities market. When the market prices are low, the price a farmer gets for their coffee harvest often doesn’t even cover the cost of production. When the market price is high, Fair Trade premiums paid to farmers increase even higher.

Farmers in the Fair Trade system get additional premiums paid to their cooperatives because they farm organically. These premiums go towards projects that their communities choose to improve their social, economic and environmental conditions. Access to clean water, education, and healthcare are basic human rights we all deserve and Fair Trade purchases contribute directly toward that advancement.

“Where do the products come from and who grows them?”

At the heart of Equal Exchange’s story is our relationship with small farmers. We work directly with over 40 small farmer cooperatives in 25 countries in South American, Latin America, Africa, and Asia to bring you high quality, organic products grown with care by people who take pride in their harvests. There are a variety of videos to share as well as different educational resources, including cooperative profiles, on our website

“I see similar products with Fair Trade labels at stores. How is buying from Equal Exchange different?”

There’s a big difference! Equal Exchange has been fighting for market access for small-scale farmers from the moment we were founded. We’re a worker-owned cooperative whose mission is tied to building a just food system where consumers have choices and feel connected to the people in the supply chains. And Equal Exchange works only with other democratically-organized farmer groups. When you buy from one of the corporate big guys you might ask yourself these questions regarding whom you’re supporting.  Are 100% of the products they offer fairly traded? Are economic justice for producers and transparency for consumers among the top priorities for the CEO and shareholders?  Equal Exchange operates independently with a more democratic business model.

Another difference is quality and freshness! Did you know Equal Exchange expertly roasts our own organic coffee in Massachusetts daily with a team of quality control professionals? Each batch of coffee is “cupped” to make sure it meets the consistent and high quality standards we set for our coffees. We seal in the freshness on each package so it arrives directly from us to your door super fresh and delicious! Take a peek inside our roastery in this video.

And Equal Exchange partners with many relief, development and social justice organizations. Learn more about these partnerships here.

“What does Equal Exchange think about current controversies surrounding Fair Trade?”

We believe Fair Trade is one tool of many that are needed to build power and more equity for small-scale farmer cooperatives around the world.  The biggest problem from our vantage point has been the corporate takeover of Fair Trade.  Certifiers invited big players into a system designed for and by small farmers and permitted them to weaken it to meet their needs.  Equal Exchange continues to stay the course we initially charted to promote authentic Fair Trade that is in line with our mission.

“I’m committed to living a more Fair Trade lifestyle. What else can I do?”

There’s a great variety of choices in fairly traded and high quality apparel, body care, crafts and home goods and food from committed brands.  

And if you’re interested in going deeper on food justice issues we invite you to join Equal Exchange’s Action Forum.

 

Have other questions come up? We want to answer them! Post them right here in the comments or

Explore more Fair Trade FAQs from Equal Exchange >>

Read Fair Trade Fact sheet from the Fair World Project >>

 

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Soy-Free Chocolate

Equal Exchange crafts chocolate with only the purest ingredients. Whether you have a soy allergy, a chemical sensitivity, or you’re simply looking to avoid soy for quality reasons, we’ve got you covered. We use 100% fairly traded and organic cacao in the form of cocoa butter and chocolate liquor. In fact, fairly traded and organic sugar and vanilla are the only other things you’ll find in our pure Dark Chocolate bars. And our Milk Chocolate and Flavored bars are also soy-free. You can enjoy all eleven varieties with confidence.

 

Shop Soy-Free Chocolate >>

What is soy lecithin, anyway?

Soy lecithin is a food additive derived from the processing of soy beans. It’s used as an emulsifier. Soy lecithin’s job in chocolate is to blend ingredients and hold things together – it keeps the cocoa butter from separating from the other ingredients.

But we don’t use it. We take the long way around for the best quality.

Organic dark chocolate that's soy-free on a cutting board.

It’s all about texture

Premium chocolate has a glossy finish and a pleasing resistance. It melts in the mouth, but snaps when you break it into pieces. To achieve this, chocolate-makers mix the ingredients in a machine called a conche that evenly distributes the cocoa butter. The addition of an emulsifier like soy lecithin can reduce the conching time. That’s why a lot of chocolate manufacturers add it – soy saves them time and work. After conching, the chocolate then goes through a tempering process. This process arranges the molecules in a certain way before the chocolate solidifies, optimizing the texture and the taste. Because we skip that short-cut, we achieve the right smooth, balanced flavors and texture through conching and tempering alone. The process takes a lot longer, but we feel the end result is better. We get the snap – without the soy.

Learn more about our process.

Our organic chocolate bars are soy free

Allergic to soy? Our chocolates and cocoas are soy-free.

Here’s some more information to help you decide which Equal Exchange products you can safely enjoy.

Equal Exchange Organic Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips (55% Cacao) and Organic Bittersweet Chocolate Chips (70% Cacao) are soy-free. In fact, they’re made in a dedicated allergen-free facility, with no peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, soy, gluten-containing ingredients or wheat on the premises. We feel very confident recommending our chips to people with an allergy to one of the top 6 major allergens!

Our 80 gram Chocolate Bars and Chocolate Minis do not contain soy or soy ingredients. We use Organic and fairly-traded cocoa butter only, fully tempering the chocolate without adding soy lecithin as an emulsifier.  Our manufacturing partner does not process soy ingredients in the facility where our bars are made.

Our Organic cocoas — Baking Cocoa and our three drinking cocoa mixes (original Hot Cocoa, Spicy Cocoa and Dark Hot Chocolate), contain no soy or soy ingredients. Though other products that contain soy are sometimes processed on the same equipment, our partners employ good manufacturing practices (GMP), cleaning the machines thoroughly between each product run.

Still have questions? Contact our helpful Customer Service Team at 774-776-7366.

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Worker Cooperatives and Democracy: A Long, Proud History

It was the early 2000s at Equal Exchange

when it became clear that the company was growing fast. We had many opportunities — like looking into building our own cafes, expanding the markets of our fair trade producer partners, and getting more advanced in the coffee products we were offering — but we’d have to make some big changes to take advantage of them. That is why the management at Equal Exchange proposed that we buy and move to a larger facility and build a roaster to roast our own coffee. And who was this proposal made to, you may ask? It came before the workers-owners of Equal Exchange, and in order for Equal Exchange to move forward with all these plans, the worker-owners would have to say yes, by way of a vote, by more than two thirds of the members present at the meeting this was proposed at. The good news is that in 2004, those worker-owners agreed to all three proposals (to buy, to move and to build) and we could not have grown the way we have since without those changes.

Two men with beards look at a big machine
Worker-owners Kevin Whelan and Edson Silva use the new roasting equipment.

A worker cooperative is a business that has

members rather than shareholders. Each member owns only one share and therefore has one vote in decisions, large or small. To say that there is a connection between cooperatives and democracy would be an understatement. All cooperatives were actually born out of the workers’ struggle for the right to vote which took place  in mid-nineteenth century England. The Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers (now known as Cooperative UK) emerged out of that movement.  Rochdale was the first successful cooperative in modern history, and is the longest running. Its founders believed that the axiom “one person, one vote” was so central that they made it a core principle in the Cooperative’s foundation. And they extended that right to both men and women, a good 80 years before woman in England were offered the same parliamentary option.

A modest brick building with a sign that reads "Store", one of the first worker cooperatives.
Rochdale Pioneers Museum, 31 Toad Lane, Rochdale. Frontage of the original shop which is now the entrance to the museum

Today, democratic participation

through member voting remains a central component to any cooperative, whether that be a consumer co-op, a worker co-op, or a farmer co-op. And it is this egalitarian principle that Equal Exchange values dearly – because it assures workers an equal distribution of power and voice. It’s a very powerful component of our work with our partners in producer co-ops, who had been self-organizing into democratic groups for almost 60 years before the Fair Trade movement took off.

In countries where power is concentrated in the hands of a very few, coffee, cocoa and tea farmer cooperatives offer a true democratic alternative, empowering many, and ensuring that democracy can thrive, even when faced with governments and groups who attempt to stamp it out. Each farmer, no matter how big or small their plot of land, has the same vote, the same voice, and the same power. It is important to note that due to the power that was generated by these farmers’ collectives,  Fair Trade labeling organizations began to require the structure that was already in place in many parts of Latin America. Coffee farmers must be organized in democratic cooperatives in order to be officially recognized and sell their coffee as a fairly traded product. And it’s this requirement for coffee farmers that motivated the early leaders of Equal Exchange to shape the organization as a worker cooperative. If farmers organized themselves in this manner, we decided we should follow suit.

A group of people sits in a circle in a tin-roofed building, listening to a speaker.
EE worker-owners meet with members of the ACOPAGRO cacao co-op in Peru.

The approximately 135 worker-owners

at Equal Exchange are members of a worker cooperative.  All regular employees at Equal Exchange who have been here for longer than a year have to be voted on by other worker-owners to become co-owners of the organization. Each person then receives one share, and thus, one vote. Each worker gets to choose  who represents the workers-owners on its board of directors. Workers serve as six of the nine board members. Therefore, in that historic vote in 2004, each worker-owner — whether their job entailed answering phones, packing boxes or overseeing operations — had the same one vote, no more and no less.

Due to our model as a co-op that purchases from farmer co-ops, and pays a fair price, U.S. food co-ops and their members made up our earliest supporters.   These consumer co-ops use the same organizing structure: one consumer member, one vote, just like the Rochdale Pioneers. We owe the Equal Exchange model and the model of working with small farmer co-ops to those visionary thinkers who championed democracy through fighting for the right to vote.


This guest post was written by Aaron Dawson. Aaron was an Equal Exchange Board Member, the Treasurer of the Democracy at Work Institute, and has served on the Board of the US Federation of Worker Co-ops. He completed his Masters in Management, focusing on Co-operatives and Credit Unions at St. Mary’s University in Halifax, Canada.


 

This fall, we’re posting content about Food and Democracy — and the important ways they intersect — up until the U.S. primaries on November 6th. Stay up to date by following the hashtag #FoodForDemocracy on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter!

Emiliano Palacin Melendrez with EE worker-owner Dee Walls.

Read more about the story of the Rochdale Pioneers.

Equal Exchange belongs at the Farmers Market

This guest post was written by Rev. Cynthia Wickwire Lundquist (pictured above, left, with Anneliese Bruegel, manager of the Fredonia Farmers’ Market.)

The Idea: Food Justice

It happened at a planning session for our church mission program. We had recently established a food justice program and wanted to expand it. “How could we better serve our community?” we asked ourselves.  And one of our church leaders said, “Why don’t we sell our fair trade food at the local farmers market?”

We had sold some Equal Exchange products to our church members for several years. Then we started to use the coffee in our coffee hour, then the sugar packets, and eventually the compostable paper cups. But this was a chance to do more. It would allow us to take the message of fair trade beyond our four walls.

It seemed to be an inspired idea in the truest sense. First, we were in a university town so we felt sure that there would be a market for these organic and fair trade products. Also, it meant that we were expanding our international mission outreach in that we could increase our support of the farmers all over the world who are Equal Exchange trading partners.

 

A group of elderly churchgoers show off the fair trade products they plan to bring to farmers market.
The group of people who reached out to the farmers market: Cindy Rechlin, Tom Gordon, Carrie Divine, Tom White, Betsy White and Cynthia Wickwire Lundquist.

 

Approaching the Farmers Market

But, we asked ourselves, would the farmers market welcome us? Their mission was to provide a market for crops raised by local farmers. We made contact and described our goals:

  1. To help international farmers
  2. To spread the word about the importance of buying fair trade products
  3. To increase the availability of organic products.

We also agreed to sell only products not carried by our local farmers, such as granola bars and jams. Finally, we told them that we would be selling the products at essentially wholesale prices so this was a non-profit endeavor. (In fact, we did round up the prices in a few cases. We use this to cover the cost of renting space at the winter indoor market and the cost of a tent, tables and display pieces. If we ever make a true profit, we plan to donate it to the Freedonia Farmers’ Market.)

 

Bring Fair Trade to your OWN Farmers Market with these tips >>

 

Success!

Then the market agreed to let us come and the experiment started. And what a success it has been! We are now in the top 5% of Equal Exchange’s sales to churches and community groups.

But that was not the biggest surprise. The biggest surprise is that our presence has benefited the farmers market. At the beginning, we only participated twice a month (two Saturdays out of four) but soon, if we weren’t there, people began to ask about us. We became a draw for the market. As the market manager said recently, “It is a symbiotic relationship.” They helped us spread the word about fair trade and we helped them bring more customers to the market. And the real winners are, of course, the farmers near and far.

Now, we have expanded our participation in the market and the variety of products we sell. We are grateful to Equal Exchange for their high quality products, of course, but most of all, for helping us expand our ministry of food justice for all.

 


This article was born at the Presbyterian General Assembly this year in St. Louis when the Rev. Cynthia Wickwire Lundquist, pastor of the Fredonia Presbyterian Church in Fredonia, New York visited the Equal Exchange booth in the exhibit area and told us her story. Peter Buck from Equal Exchange asked her to write it up and send it along —  and here it is!

Do you have a story to tell us? Send it (with pictures if possible) to Kate Chess, the editor of our blog, at kchess@equalexchange.coop.

 

 

What Do Folks Say About Our Coffee?

This summer, Equal Exchange brought our coffee and chocolate on the road to Austin, Texas for the 79th General Convention of the Episcopal Church. We shared a table with our partners at Episcopal Relief & Development and poured out our fairly traded brew to all comers.

Over the course of nine days, we had a lot of wonderful conversations about fair trade values, fellowship, and favorite blends! People were excited to hear about the new low price of Organic Breakfast Blend, which makes it easier than ever to serve it at church.

Here’s a mosaic of just a small sampling of the folks who enjoyed our coffee, with their names — and their thoughts — below.

A collage of fifteen photos of diverse people enjoying Eqyal Exchange coffee at the 79th General Convention of The Episcopal Church.

Who are these happy coffee drinkers?

Read their stories, in their own words.

1. The Very Rev. Joseph Kerwin Delicat, Dean of Holy Trinity Cathedral, Port-au-Prince, Haiti

 The newly elected bishop coadjutor of the Diocese of Haiti stopped by the Episcopal Relief & Development booth to enjoy a cup of Equal Exchange coffee!

 

2. Carol Folbre, St. John’s Episcopal in New Braunfels, Texas

“I’m part of a Ministry of Contemplative Action (MOCA). The philosophy is to go to social action events together and then reflect. Coffee is perfect for this ministry. We use the phrase ‘sip by sip.'”

 

3. Captain Louis Cavaliere (U.S. Navy Retired), Grace Church, Merchantville, New Jersey

“The coffee is great and the dark chocolate is good for you!”

 

4. Sharon Hilpert and Ardel Hansen

These two women stopped by the booth after going by bus to show solidarity to the women at the Hutto Detention Center in Taylor, Texas. 

 

5. Terri Bays, Church of the Holy Trinity, South Bend, Indiana

“I’m the poster child for coffee addiction.”

 

6. John Chilstrom, St. Matthews Episcopal, Austin, Texas

“Before the end of General ​Convention​, I wanted to make sure I placed my first order for coffee, and I did — online!”

 

7. Ann Bustard, Christ Episcopal Church, New Bern, North Carolina

“My favorite Equal Exchange coffee is African Roots.”

 

8. Margaret Moses, Church of the Ascension, Mt. Vernon, New York

“Your coffee is delicious. It’s a nice roasted flavor which reminds me of Blue Mountain coffee in Jamaica, where I grew up.  That’s why I keep coming back.”

 

9. Chad Brinkman and Sean McConnell, Episcopal Relief & Development staff members.

“Both of us love the Equal Exchange dark chocolate bar with Lemon, Ginger, and Black Pepper. It’s our favorite.”

 

10. Sarah Lawton, St. John the Evangelist, San Francisco, California

“We use Equal Exchange coffee every Sunday. It tastes really good. We have a lot of connections as a church to Central America. We know that coffee is so important to that region and we like to support farmers there.”

 

11. Abraham Ndungu, Trinity Episcopal Church, Columbus, Ohio​

​”Fantastic coffee, super chocolate.”​

 

12. Xerxes Eclipse, Episcopal Relief & Development staff member.

Xerxes enjoys coffee and coloring at the Episcopal Relief & Development booth.

 

13. Timothy Kimbrough, Christ Church Cathedral, Nashville, Tennessee

“I could not have gotten through General Convention without it. It’s been my pick-me-up through the afternoon sessions. Thank you for being here.

 

14. Bernice Turner, St. Katherine’s Episcopal Church, Baltimore, Maryland

​​”I love the taste of your coffee.”​

 

15.  Alex Merritt, St. David’s Episcopal, Austin, Texas

“Episcopal Relief & Development does so much important work; it’s work that impacts some of the world’s most vulnerable people. And the coffee is delicious.”

High Quality Tea, from Leaf to Cup

Tea provides a taste of place – the growing region’s soil and elevation, its rainfall, the season. Cultivating it requires hard work and skill. And it’s a crop which can be vulnerable to climatic variation and environmental pollutants. That’s why we source 100% organic tea from small scale farmer co-ops. Processing and packaging steps maintain its high quality. And we want to help you learn to store and brew your tea in a way that brings out its best characteristics.

Shop Fair Trade and Organic Tea >>

Step 1: Growing and Harvesting

Both green tea and black tea comes from the same plant. Native to Asia, Camellia sinensis thrives in tropical and subtropical climates. Our small-scale farmer partners in India and Sri Lanka know what they’re doing. Their communities have grown this crop for generations. Our partners — TPI in India and BioFoods in Sri Lanka — provide farmers with agricultural support.

When tea is produced conventionally, chemical residue can end up in the cup. Nobody wants to drink that! All Equal Exchange teas are certified organic. Instead of spraying chemical pesticides and fertilizers, our partners use natural pest deterrents, companion planting, and composting to make sure their tea plants remain healthy. These practices are better for worker safety and for the surrounding natural environment and eco-system. And we believe they lead to a high quality cup of tea.

In some parts of the world, the tea harvest is mechanized. But our partners, often located in the most remote places, continue to pluck tea by hand – selecting only two leaves and the fresh bud to ensure the finest quality. That means a human being with knowledge and experience selects each leaf that gets plucked. In our supply chain, women typically do this work.

A group of women harvest fair trade tea on a green hillside in India
Tea pluckers in India harvest their crop.

Step 2: Processing, Shipment and Quality Control

Tea must be processed within hours of plucking to maintain its high quality. Equal Exchange tea is prepared using the orthodox method. This involves a series of precise and traditional steps focused on preserving the characteristics of the tea leaf. It’s slower than the more mechanized CTC (cut, tear curl) method, but the quality is far better. Workers wither the leaves, steam or roll them, and control the level of oxidation to determine if the finished product will be black tea or green tea. Then, they fire the leaves to halt oxidation.

View the Infographic to learn more about the steps!

When processing is complete, workers sort the tea leaves by size and grade and seal the loose leaves into large tea sacks for storage or shipment. Equal Exchange employees “cup” the tea (a process of tasting tea)  and select every lot that we purchase.

Equal Exchange tea utilizes a dual-chamber tea bag for a better steep. The bag is a special blend of abaca (a relative of the banana tree family). It’s free of potential adulterants like plastic and chlorine bleach. We’ve chosen an organic cotton string that’s attached to the bag without the need for glue or a metal staple. We don’t want anything to flavor your brew but tea!

Rows of white china cups hold different grades of organic tea
Tea is cupped in Sri Lanka

Step 3: Your turn!

After you buy tea, proper storage and brewing techniques will help you get the best taste. Store your tea away from heat, light and moisture. When you’re ready to brew a cup, make sure to use the right temperature water for the variety of tea you’ve selected! Learn more! In this video, Equal Exchange Food Safety Coordinator D Walls demonstrates their tips for brewing green tea, black tea and herbal tea correctly:

Now that you know how our farmer partners produce and harvest this organic tea, how we prepare it for sale and how best to brew it, only one step remains. Enjoy!

 

 

Pop-Up Fair Trade Stores on Campus

College campuses are full of change-makers and activists like you, making them the perfect locations for hosting successful Fair Trade sales. A pop-up store on campus can be a fundraising opportunity for departments and clubs, or just a great way to raise awareness about socially responsible consumerism.

Get inspired to host your own sale by two schools that recently hosted campus sales, Manhattan College and Bryant University.

Equal Exchange Coffee = Fair Trade Fuel!

At Manhattan College in New York, the School of Business teamed up with Campus Ministry and Social Action for a Fair Trade pop-up store on campus during Christmastime. Manhattan College was the first Fair Trade Certified College in New York City, which means they must carry a certain number of items in their cafeterias and in their bookstore that were produced by farmers and artisans who receive fair wages and can perform their duties in a safe working environment. Aileen Farrelly, assistant professor and assistant dean in the School of Business, said, “Fair Trade embodies our Lasallian values, is critical to the College’s mission, and using fair trade products to launch this project helped our students learn about all aspects of running a business.” The pop-up store was called Fair Trade Fuel and students were responsible for accounting and financing, marketing and publicity.  They sold chocolate, crafts, and clothing to their campus community over the course of three days. It was so successful that they held another sale around Valentine’s Day, selling Fair Trade chocolate and flowers. 

Social Change Marketplace. Photo courtesy of Bryant University.

Bryant University in Rhode Island is becoming known for their Social Change Marketplace, the first student-run program of its kind in the country. Local social enterprises are invited each year to participate as vendors selling their products on campus for a day in December. The pop-up holiday marketplace encourages conscious consumerism during the gift-giving season, and all products featured have a positive social impact. Companies each have their own table set up and talk with students about what makes their products special. Check out their market compilation video from 2017. The popularity of the Marketplace on campus inspired a corporate event at Fidelity Investments and the student organizers shared their successes at the Campus Compact National Conference where colleges and universities gather to build democracy through community development. 

Equal Exchange is an ideal partner for groups who are interested in hosting similar pop-up sales. We offer discounted wholesale pricing to organizations that want to sell organic coffee (in packages or freshly brewed at a coffee kiosk), tea, chocolate bars, olive oil and cocoa. You choose cases of what you want to sell, then mark up the products at prices that help you reach your fundraising goals or just covers your costs and promotes Fair Trade.  We can offer best selling product suggestions, pricing recommendations, and promotional materials to help make your sale a success. Our customer service team is available M-F 9-5 Eastern at 774-776-7366 to help.

Here are our top tips for planning a pop-up sale on campus:

1- Plan early: For a November or December sale, start planning in October so you can reserve a location with lots of foot traffic and coordinate with vendors or wholesalers. Choose a date or a series of dates when people are most likely to shop.  If planning a sale seems intimidating, start small by reserving a table at an existing gift fair. You’ll benefit from the excitement that’s already there.

Photo courtesy of Bryant University.

2- Recruit a strong team: Find volunteers who are interested in social justice but also look for helpers who are studying finances, accounting, sales and marketing. Put a call out for help on Facebook and at the school’s Volunteer or Ministries fair.  Professors are also great mentors to help guide you.

3-Add in multiple vendors and brands: Many other Fair Trade brands offer similar wholesale arrangements for event sales so you can have a variety of products for shoppers to choose from – find them here.

4- Invite the community: Opening up the sale to the public, if you’re able to, is a good way to increase foot traffic. Promote the sale on campus radio, social media, the school newspaper, and get it in the local media too. Doing interviews and explaining why this sale is special will draw shoppers who are looking for unique gifts that are also doing good in the world.

5-Align your sale with activism-focused events: Some of the best and most effective Fair Trade sales happen during Fair Trade Month in October, World Fair Trade Day in May, and Earth Day in April because they capitalize on existing publicity around social, economic and environmental justice.


We’ve got more ideas for Fair Trade events and fundraisers that work great for campus groups!

Ready to get started? Sign your organization up for a Wholesale account to order products at special prices.