Demand for Fair Trade-certified organic products stays fairly steady, with a few category exceptions.

Bananas and other tropical fruits remain at the top of the list, with the highest demand from consumers, according to Diane Dempster, manager of the Farmer’s Own program and local organic procurement for Charlie’s Produce, Seattle.

“There has not been much interest for other items at this time,” Dempster said.

Others agree.

“Banana or mango are generally what we see,” said Earl Herrick, president and founder of Earl’s Organic Produce, San Francisco, Calif., referring to the specific commodities that he’s seen gain in popularity in regards to demand for Fair Trade certification.

Some growth

Still, the interest is there, even if it’s still relatively small.

Simcha Weinstein, director of marketing for Albert’s Organics, Bridgeport, N.J., has noticed an increase in the company’s Fair Trade programs.

“Since 2006, Albert’s Organics has been a strong and reliable partner in supporting Fair Trade products,” he said.

The program offers serveral benefits, he said.

“This support helps provide small farmers direct access to international markets and the tools and resources they need to succeed and thrive,” Weinstein said.

The company is proud of this opportunity to help.

“Through its purchases, Albert’s Organics has contributed nearly $500,000 in community development funds to banana-growing communities in Ecuador and Peru since 2006,” he said in an e-mail.

Weinstein says that support is growing.

“Albert’s has grown their commitment to Fair Trade each year, averaging over 60% growth year over year,” Weinstein said. “In 2010, Albert’s Organics sold over 4.5 million pounds of Fair Trade product, which is over 9% of the overall Fair Trade product sold worldwide.”

That growth seems to be natural, considering the customer base for organic products.

“A lot of times we see an overlap in the consumers for those segments. A consumer motivated to purchase organic would also be interested to purchase Fair Trade and locally sourced products,” said Addie Pobst, organic integrity and sustainability lead for CF Fresh, Sedro-Woolley, Wash.

Room for growth

Pobst says that one reason other commodities haven’t followed in the same footsteps as tropical fruits is that the sourcing and production process are set up much differently.

“There are some Fair Trade apple and pear producers, but it’s typically a really different business model,” Pobst said. “There’s some interest in obtaining some duel certification with organic, but the business model just doesn’t translate perfectly right now.”

Pobst said she expects more growers to become Fair Trade-certified, but she also expects to see the Fair Trade principles applied differently for various crops.

Another reason more produce companies haven’t jumped into Fair Trade certification has to do with the demand from the marketplace.

Naples, Fla.-based Naturipe Farms LLC has looked into the process but hasn’t yet committed.

“At this point, it’s really just paying to get the certification and have them review our records, so it’s something we haven’t pulled the trigger on because we only have minimal requests right now from retailers,” said vice president of sales Jim Roberts.

Education needed

Whether they have the certification or not, organic companies agree that there is a lack of consumer education programs.

“Many of the people interested in organic are also interested in Fair Trade, but they may lack some education,” Herrick said.

Consumers can be easily confused as to if all organic products are Fair Trade, or if all Fair Trade products are organic.

Herrick also cites the demand for Fair Trade coffee as an example the produce industry can strive to follow, however the setup will likely be very different.

“Coffee has been a very successful thing,” he said. “It’s been very well received because coffeehouses can focus on that. People go there for one item, and it’s easier to educate consumers and focus on that.”

The produce industry education efforts will be different because of the variety of items offered in the department.

Like any underdeveloped effort, the lack of growth likely stems mostly from one main issue, the lack of funding.

“There needs to be money put toward getting the education program off the ground, and we’re not seeing a lot of that right now,” Herrick said.

And companies say that until Fair Trade produce begins to demand premium pricing to compensate for the higher input costs, it’s not likely to receive such funding.

“Most of the time you can get a little premium for them, but it’s lucky to be 10%,” Herrick said.