Banana growing regions have been battered by hurricanes and floods, disrupting production and causing hiccups in the supply chain.
But many in the industry believe the biggest threat to one of most popular fruits in the world is black sigatoka, a disease that has swept through the banana belt — the ring around the middle of the globe stretching 20 degrees north and south of the equator.
One country that has not seen an invasion of black sigatoka is Peru. Consequently, more and more buyers are turning to the South American country as a supplier of bananas, especially organic bananas.
“Peru is the next step for us,” Mayra Velaquez de Leon, president of Organics Unlimited, San Diego. “We may begin there in the next month and a half.
“We needed to diversify and they don’t have the (black sigatoka) disease, which is very good for us because we are all organic.”
Organics Unlimited plans to eventually have its own banana growing operations in Peru. It already owns 350 hectares (864 acres) of bananas in Mexico and another 200 in Ecuador. Velaquez de Leon said the soil and growing conditions are different in Peru, producing slightly smaller fruit but with the same taste as bananas from other regions.
Another company looking to Peru as a banana source is Banacol Marketing Group, Coral Gables, Fla.
Bill Sheridan, executive vice president of sales for Banacol, said the company sources from Colombia, Costa Rica, and occasionally Ecuador.
“Peru does have some potential, and we currently are looking at the organics,” Sheridan said.
Organics is a key growth area in the banana category, according to Dennis Christou, vice president of marketing for Del Monte Fresh Produce NA, Coral Gables, Fla.
Data from The Packer’s Fresh Trends 2012 survey supports that theory.
According to the survey, the number of respondents who buy only organic bananas doubled in 2011 compared to 2010, hitting the 6% mark. The number of survey respondents who said they bought organic bananas at least some of the time also doubled from 2010 to 2011, with 22% falling into that category in 2011.
“Del Monte organic bananas have had an increasingly fast paced growth cycle, and we plan on continuing to grow the category,” Christou said.