Fairtrade logo to be dropped from Cadbury packs, but will new ethical labels confuse consumers?

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Cadbury chocolate products will no longer carry the Fairtrade logo starting next year, as part of a growing trend for businesses to take their ethical production standards in house.

However, the news has prompted one entrepreneur to question whether consumers will get on board with unrecognisable labels about ethics.

News.com.au reports a change in partnership between Mondelez International-owned Cadbury Australia and Fairtrade Australia and New Zealand will mean the Fairtrade logo will disappear from Cadbury chocolate packaging from 2018.

Cadbury confirmed to SmartCompany the morning it is currently rolling out a new partnership with Fairtrade, called Cocoa Life, which news.com.au reports is owned by Mondelez.

The Cocoa Life project is a $400 million program that Cadbury says aims to assist farmers through community project efforts and makes Cadbury “an accountable partner for our cocoa farmers, not just the buyer”.

However, this means that by May 2018, the Fairtrade logo, will have been removed from all packaging of products sold in Australia and New Zealand, to be replaced by a Cocoa Life marker.

Chief executive of Fairtrade Australia and New Zealand, Molly Harriss Olson, said in a statement on the changes last year that the organisation’s partnership with Cocoa Life is “an exciting development”, although she also told news.com.au the organisation would have preferred Cadbury to have stuck with the logo.

The confirmation of the changes comes shortly after Coles customers complained the retailer’s new own-brand dark chocolate no longer contained the Fairtrade logo, with Coles confirming it had moved to a different certification scheme, UTZ.

Asked about this change, Olson said the organisation respected Coles’ decision.

“We know how impactful this is for the farmers and workers in the Fairtrade system. However we respect that Coles need to make their own choices, and will continue to work with them to ensure as many Fairtrade products as possible are available on shelf,” she told SmartCompany.

Consumer sentiment a challenge with changes

To have the Fairtrade logo appear on products, producers are required to show ingredients they use meet minimum standards for economic and social impacts. While in-house or varying programs like the Cocoa Life project commit to maintaining these same standards, retail expert at Queensland University of Technology Gary Mortimer says the real challenge for brands like Cadbury will be convincing shoppers.

“Corporate social responsibility practices are expensive to implement, because businesses are often dealing with external third parties,” he explains. 

We’re seeing businesses now bring those costs internally by setting their own benchmarks and monitoring systems. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as the internal benchmarks could be equal to or similar to the standards, but the challenge they’ll face is consumer sentiments.”

The power of a recognisable ethical standards label cannot be underestimated, says founder of nail polish brand Kester Black, Anna Ross. The Kester Black range has a variety of ethical standards certifications including global certification BCorp, which Ross says has been invaluable to her brand.

“It’s pretty incredible. The BCorp accreditation is one of the hardest ones you can get — it took us up to a year to get us there,” she explains. 

From her experience interacting with consumers who care about the origin and ethics of products, Ross says businesses that establish their own standards run the potential risk that shoppers will have too much white noise to deal with.

“It’s confusing, and it can lose a whole lot of transparency and trust,” she says. 

This period in retail is incredibly important for ethical labelling, Ross believes, as consumers become savvier overall. While accreditation processes are expensive, it’s a critical time to ensure customers understand what different standards actually mean.

“If there is an accreditation body available, I feel like there should just be one [option],” says Ross.

“There’s no point doubling up, and especially because the way consumers are changing, going forward I think this is going to be very important.”

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