Turbana, Fyffes partnership gets into melon deal

02/13/2006 12:00:00 AM
Doug Ohlemeier

(Feb. 13) CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Four months after Europe’s top banana marketer bought into it, Turbana Corp. is expanding into new commodities and eyeing other products — and other companies.

“The opportunities are there. What we have to do is choose the right ones because we want to do things right,” said Juan David Alarcon, Turbana’s chief executive officer.

A recent move by new partner, Fyffes, for example, could broaden Turbana’s offshore melon deal. Dublin, Ireland-based Fyffes took ownership of half of Turbana last September. On Feb. 8, Fyffe’s announced it had acquired a 60% share in Nolem SA, the largest melon exporter in Brazil.

“They are one of the world’s largest melon producers,” Alarcon said. “They have a distribution network in Europe. We are looking for alliances. When we brought Fyffes into the picture, we were looking for a strategic partner. Now we see something has happened.”

Brazil has a small October and November window for shipments to the U.S., Alarcon said. The melons, which will be packed under the Fyffes label, will lengthen Turbana’s December-to-spring deal, he said.

Turbana also recently struck a sourcing deal for Costa Rica cantaloupe.

Turbana’s first boatloads of cantaloupe arrived Jan. 15 at Turbana’s Freeport, Texas, and Bridgeport, Conn., ports.

Turbana started shipping honeydew — which started Jan. 1 — from Panama last year. Turbana’s Central American melons run through the end of March. The cantaloupe and honeydew will be packed under the Fyffes label.

BIGGER TURBANA, FOOTHOLD FOR FYFFES

Turbana, the U.S. marketing arm of the Uniban SA cooperative, Colombia’s biggest exporter of bananas and plantains, sees itself becoming a larger company, not only in bananas but also in other fruits from its Central American and South American production sourcing region. Turbana also wants to acquire other companies in its North American and European distribution region, Alarcon said.

“We want to buy other companies that are leaders and have good programs that we can bring into the Turbana network,” he said. “By 2010, we will be a totally different company.”

Brian Bell, a Fyffes spokesman, said the move for Turbana gives Fyffes a foothold in marketing its products in the U.S. through an established player.

”This is an initial step for Fyffes to re-enter the U.S. market,” he said. “The main brand promotion activity to arise from it will relate to Fyffes Gold pineapples.”

The deal, he said, leverages the Fyffes’ 30-year relationship with Uniban.

“Turbana is a well-established brand in the U.S. market, one of the largest suppliers after Dole, Chiquita and Del Monte,” Bell said.

BRANCHING OUT

Turbana, the largest plantain importer into the U.S., has four ocean vessels calling on Costa Rican and Colombian ports. Fyffes has vessels running from Europe to South America and to Miami, Pompano Beach, Fla., and Norfolk, Va. The logistics will allow the two companies to transship fruit from its common ports, Alarcon said.

“When you use third-party cargo ships, it makes it more difficult to compete,” he said. “In this business, you have to be cost efficient. Our idea is to use our distribution channels for selling other kinds of products. In the past, we didn’t do that because we didn’t have the right logistics.”

Those products could include mangoes and other fruits and roots from Brazilian or Chilean sources, Alarcon said.

The logistics upgrade following the Fyffes partnership will allow more importing flexibility, said Jose Jaramillo,

However, the company is increasing volumes on its melons as different harvesting areas enter the deal, Jaramillo said. Turbana expects to ship up to 10 containers or 12,800 boxes of cantaloupe and 15,400 boxes of honeydew a week during the season.

“In the future, we want to be considered a serious player not only in the offshore season but in the long-term as a year-round program,” Alarcon said. “With Fyffes, it will help us even more. They have a structure in Central America and have a good quality control team and people at the packing stations to guarantee quality.”

Turbana is taking on more specialty commodities. This season, it added Costa Rican jicama, malanga, eddoes, chayote, ginger and yampi as well as other tropical items.

The company was expecting to receive its first container of yuca Feb. 12.

Turbana has sourced pineapple from Costa Rica, Panama and Guatemala since 2003. The company expects its alliance with Fyffes to increase its shipments. Turbana expects to ship up to 975,000 boxes of pineapple this year into the U.S.

The pineapple will be marketed under the Fyffes label.



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