Walk into any 7-Eleven in the country and you’ll see floor-to-ceiling posters within the store windows, advertising Fairtrade certified coffee from the Doi Chaang Coffee Company. The posters go match the tent cards set up around coffee stations and coffee cups that also sport the Doi Chaang brand.

If there was ever any argument that Fair Trade needs to be expensive, it’s been tossed out with the morning’s spent coffee grinds.It’s all part of 7-Eleven’s World Roast Program that aims to introduce quality blends of coffee from around the world and expand the credibility of the franchise’s java offerings — all at the same price as a regular cup of coffee.

The Fair Trade offering, although temporary (the promotion will be available until the end of August), could be a sign that the mass market is changing. The 7-Eleven promotion will offer Fair Trade coffee in approximately 450 locations nationwide.

According to Tanya Jacoboni, Vice President of Business Development at Doi Chaang, people from around the country, in towns as small as Fort McMurray have sent word via Facebook and Twitter about their most recent Fair Trade coffee purchases. “7-Eleven is actually quite big in those smaller areas,” says Jacoboni. “You’re not going to get any Starbucks. You need that local convenience store.”

While Fair Trade has made its mark on major city centres such as Vancouver — and a handful of designated towns such as Wolfsville, Nova Scotia, La Pêche, Quebec, and Gimli, Manitoba (to name a few) — many rural communities don’t have the means to advertise Fair Trade products on the scale that 7-Eleven has in the past few months.

Anand Pawa, Vice President of Marketing at Doi Chaang, says, “We have a good opportunity here to really make our mark on small towns, to extend our reach.”

For those who already know about Fair Trade and are looking for ways to increase the number of 

 they take this year, the promotion expands the range of Fair Trade choices that are available.

The development, however, is not free from controversy. According to Pawa, not everyone sees the partnership with 7-Eleven — a company not typically known for ethical sourcing — as a good thing. Doi Chaang has received a lot of backlash from people who say that the company is “selling out.”

Jacoboni says she received a phone call from a consumer accusing Doi Chaang of bending over backwards for 7-Eleven, offering beans for discounted prices. But according to Jacoboni, Doi Chaang sold their beans at exactly the same price that they would sell them at for any other company. “They never asked for a discount,” says Jacoboni. “They never even questioned the price.”

It all goes back to the impacts on the producers. 50 percent of Doi Chaang is owned by its farmers — a quality, Pawa says, 7-Eleven has been very supportive of. By the end of August, 7-Eleven will have moved 24 tonnes of Doi Chaang coffee beans, which will help support hundreds of farmers in Thailand. Pawa says, “People don’t understand that this is actually a good thing that these institutions are going Fair Trade. The farmers are making money, and we’re able to move our beans.”

The key to Doi Chaang’s success — and that of the farmers — is steady growth. The company is in no rush to find contracts that they aren’t prepared to fulfil. The company’s Fair Trade certification requires them to pay a certain amount of money up front for the their beans, which ensures a steady income for the farmers. “We actually have to pay the farmers, so we need to find the money to pay them first,” says Pawa.

In the meantime, the next time you’re in your local 7-Eleven, you’ll be greeted by an employee wearing a shirt that says, “Ask me about Doi Chaang Coffee.” Ask, and they will tell you that Doi Chaang Coffee is from Thailand and that it’s both organic and Fairtrade certified.

If you’re lucky, they might even ask you to taste some.

Bryce Tarling—

Categories: Blog Post