The banana industry’s “Big Three” — Chiquita Brands International, Del Monte Fresh Produce and Dole Fresh Fruit Co. — have lost market share and influence, according to a new study.
The Big Three controlled more than 65% of global banana exports in the 1980s, but just 37% in 2013, according to a Union Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization report, The Changing Face of the Global Banana Trade.
“Despite the continued importance of multinational companies in the global trade of bananas, their involvement in banana production has fallen dramatically over the past three decades, shifting their sphere of action to favor other areas in the sector and opening the door to opportunities for other companies,” according to the report, written by economists in the organization’s Intergovernmental Group on Bananas and Tropical Fruits.
Dennis Christou, Del Monte Fresh’s vice president of marketing, said the company disagrees with some of the report’s key findings but did not want to discuss them in detail.
Bil Goldfield, Dole’s director of corporate communications, said the company would not comment on the report.
Officials from Chiquita and other banana shippers and importers did not respond to requests for comment.
Ed Odron, owner of Stockton, Calif.-based Ed Odron Produce Marketing Consulting, said smaller banana companies aren’t saddled with the huge marketing budgets of the Big Three. As a result, when they make their pitches to retailers, they can offer bananas at a lower price.
Historically, however, the benefits to retailers of lower prices have often been offset by irregular size and inferior quality, Odron said.
But that’s changing.
“What’s happened is they’ve developed some pretty good quality, and they can sell for 49 or 59 cents a pound instead of 69 cents.”
Independent retailers, in particular, have been more likely to switch to smaller suppliers over the past decade, Odron said. Some bigger retail chains, meanwhile, are experimenting with dividing supplies from the Big Three and smaller ones.
According to the FAO economists, as market share of multinationals decreased, their roles in the industry have changed.
A focus on plantation ownership and production in the past has shifted to post-production logistics, including purchasing from producers, transportation, ripening facilities and marketing.
Another big change in the banana industry in recent decades, according to the report, has been the greater role played by major U.S. and European grocery store chains.
Chains have become “important players in the global banana trade as they dominate the retail market in the main banana-consuming countries and are also increasingly purchasing from smaller wholesalers or directly from growers,” according to the report.
Retail power has been facilitated, according to the report, by the establishment of direct container liner services from banana-producing regions to markets.
On the subject of the merger of Chiquita and Fyffes PLC, expected to be completed later this year, the UN economists say that while it will give the new company nearly 19% of global banana exports, it won’t be enough to significantly alter industry dynamics.
“It is unlikely that the merger will give the new company sufficient market power to exert pressure over the banana market and influence either producer prices or import/wholesale prices, given the importance of other market actors, in particular in Europe and Russia,” according to the report.