A worker harvests raspberries at a BerryMex ranch in Baja, Mexico where Driscoll’s Fair Trade Certified berries are produced.
A worker harvests raspberries at a BerryMex ranch in Baja, Mexico where Driscoll’s Fair Trade Certified berries are produced.

Driscoll’s plans to expand retail distribution of its Fair Trade USA certified product out of Baja California beyond the initial offering of organic strawberries and raspberries, adding blueberries and blackberries.

All four berries will be available in conventional as well as organic. Baja California berries start in January, peak in the early spring and go into summer.

The Driscoll’s program has generated $200,000 for farmworker communities since it began this past January.

“We started this as a pilot, but it quickly got bigger than we first imagined,” said Soren Bjorn, executive vice president for Driscoll’s of the Americas. “We ended up doing the certification across 11 farms in Baja that covered about 3,500 farmworkers, who went through training with Fair Trade. But we only put two of our products in. Now we’re opening it up to the rest of our line from Baja, and we’re adding probably five to 10 farms to the original 11.”

So far, organic strawberries and raspberries were sold at some Costco and Whole Foods stores. The plan is to increase volume and include more retailers on all Fair Trade berries.

“Costco and Whole Foods will have great availability, but we expect to open it up to more customers,” Bjorn said Oct. 11. “Not every customer is interested in paying the premium, but quite a few have inquired about participating. That’s a good thing to add to our offer and make more broadly available.”

Fair Trade USA standards complement Driscoll’s worker welfare standards introduced last year, Bjorn said. The Driscoll’s criteria apply where local laws don’t exist, aren’t consistently enforced or are deemed to provide too little worker protection.

“We wanted to explore the benefit of a recognized third party, and Fair Trade was one of the programs we looked at,” he said. “It’s the most closely aligned with what we do. They were interested in working with us and expanding in the berry category.”

“We insisted the Fair Trade premium go back into the communities,” Bjorn said. Three farmworker-elected committees in three Baja communities decide which projects the proceeds will support. Driscoll’s, which is not on those committees, added a contribution to funds generated by the premiums.

“The most inspiring part of this work with Driscoll’s has been to see the enthusiasm and engagement from the workers in Baja,” Hannah Freeman, director of produce and floral at Fair Trade USA, said in a statement. “Through the Fair Trade Premium fund, and the democratic decision making process that comes with it, workers are creating solutions to their own needs.”

“This program expansion represents our ongoing commitment to the communities where we live and operate,” Bjorn said.