Roughly 40% of U.S. consumers are aware of Fair Trade products, and more than 10% are buying them. The Oppenheimer Group is working to help increase both those numbers in support of Divemex, its Guadalajara, Mexico-based greenhouse partner.

“Oppy’s business development representatives are actively setting up custom promotions for our Divemex program with retailers throughout the U.S. and Canada,” said Aaron Quon, greenhouse and vegetable category director at Vancouver-based Oppy. “Because the bell peppers are Fair Trade Certified, they offer retailers an opportunity to differentiate and promote with a unique message based around building communities in a developing country.”

Quon said Divemex nearly doubled its Fair Trade pepper program last season by certifying its Etzatlan greenhouse facility. This season, the grower added a Fair Trade Certified green pepper to its existing mix of red, yellow and orange peppers.

Although Fair Trade products typically cost more than their conventional counterparts, Quon said that hasn’t stopped it from developing a niche with socially conscious consumers.

“Interestingly, this doesn’t seem to be much of a barrier at the consumer level,” he said. “The cost prorated across individual peppers is very small. The Fair Trade logo is fairly well-recognized and understood, and it carries a high level of credibility. Consumers acknowledge that they can make a real difference for what amounts to a very small investment.”

Quon said that research has shown that consumers who purchase Fair Trade products are likely to make donations to causes and volunteer in their communities.

“Purchasing Fair Trade peppers seems to fit naturally into their lifestyles,” he said. “In our post-recession economy, perhaps more consumers can afford to make socially conscious choices at retail. It also seems like the breadth of available Fair Trade products is growing, so people are becoming more familiar with the label and what it stands for because they are seeing it across a broader assortment. Also, as more members of Generation Y — who as a group enjoy a reputation for a stronger interest in sustainably produced items — begin household shopping, the market is growing.”

Quon said that because Fair Trade helps people in a meaningful way, Oppenheimer is featuring some of those workers in its promotions.

“Divemex credits the quality of their peppers directly to the efforts of the people working in their facilities,” he said. “Workers in both Etzatlan and Culican are now reaping the benefits that Fair Trade Certification Divemex earns. A portion of all sales — about 50 cents per 11-pound box — is returned directly to those who work there. We provide point-of-sale cards, web and social media content to help spread the word, supporting promotions like ads and display contests.”

Quon said demand for Fair Trade items is higher among consumers in the Northeast, West, Mid-Atlantic and Mountain regions, compared to the Midwest. He also said that while Divemex’s Fair Trade program has thrived with high-end retailers who cater to socially-minded consumers, interest also is growing at club stores and mainstream retail stores.

Oppenheimer expects its volume of organic bell peppers to increase by as much as 30% this season, which runs from January through May, Quon said.