Whole Story

The Official Whole Foods Market® Blog

Equal Exchange

We love our producers, suppliers and vendors and we think most of them have some pretty interesting stories behind their products too. We’re sharing some of our favorites here in an ongoing series.

It feels good to choose products that guarantee fair prices for farmers in the developing world.

But wouldn’t it feel even better to live in a world where farmers everywhere earn a fair price for the product of their labor?

That’s exactly the kind of world Equal Exchange set out to create in 1986 when they began working with farmer-owned cooperatives on four continents to source coffee, tea, chocolate, cocoa, sugar, bananas, olive oil and almonds. Equal Exchange itself is a worker-owned cooperative with a goal to permanently change the economic model for global trade one product at a time. "We’re hoping to make ourselves obsolete.

Someday farmers will get a fair price without our help,” says Nicholas Reid, co-owner of Equal Exchange.

Under the leadership of President Rink Dickinson, one of the three original Equal Exchange founders, the company partners closely with small-scale farmer organizations to make a meaningful and lasting impact in their communities. "We find out their vision for their own communities and their own development and we all work together to make it happen,” Nicholas explains.

The sale of every Equal Exchange product generates a “social premium,” additional money that goes directly to the farmers so they can choose to reinvest in their own community development, in ways ranging from community centers, hospitals and schools to capital investment. The sale of chocolate bars made with cacao from one of Equal Exchange’s newest partners, the Fortaleza del Valle cacao cooperative in Ecuador, has already helped the farmers invest in pruning and replanting of trees to rehabilitate the farms, better post-harvest infrastructure and maintenance tools.

Equal Exchange also provides workers with training and education. Members of different cooperatives are brought together from across the globe to share knowledge and the company provides “quality trainings” to help cooperatives improve their pre- and post-harvest processes so they can deliver a higher quality product and get more value out of their work.

“Equal Exchange doesn’t refer to us as coffee producers, but as their strategic partners,” says Arnaldo Neira Camizan, co-founder of the CEPICAFE cooperative in Peru, which has diversified from coffee to also produce cocoa, sugar and other products. “Through Equal Exchange’s help, our members are converting from small-scale farmers to small-scale business people.”

Equal Exchange is changing farmer communities through products like chocolate.

Have you ever changed somebody’s day with chocolate? Tell us about it!

Photography by Ha Lam.