File Photo ( )

In the quest for sustainability and social responsibility, banana companies are looking for ways to create efficiencies, conserve resources and improve conditions for workers.

“One big change Chiquita has recently undergone is installing water recycling systems in 26% of its packing stations, which has reduced water consumption by more than 1.7 billion liters per year compared to Chiquita’s average,” said Jamie Postell, director of sales for Chiquita Brands, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “That is an 80% water savings compared to packing stations that don’t have such systems.”

In a smaller example, the company also has employed the palletization and handling instructions on the top of each box, allowing best practices to be seen everywhere. 

“For Chiquita, sustainability has been a journey for more than 25 years,” he said. 

“Chiquita is responding to consumers concerns around sustainable and ethical production processes along with food transparency in the supply chain with a well-balanced sustainability agenda.”

He said Chiquita realizes the consumer is overwhelmed with different sustainability certifications and claims. 

“Chiquita’s goal is for consumers around the world to trust that the Chiquita blue sticker not only stands for quality and taste, but also for responsibly produced bananas that not only promote a fair trade but that also protect the environment and economic development.”

With 46,000 employees, Del Monte Fresh Produce has a big role in the welfare of many communities, said Dennis Christou, vice president of marketing for Coral Gables, Fla.-based Del Monte Fresh Produce.

“Our labor policies and practices are designed to provide a hygienic and safe working environment,” Christou said. 

“We ensure safe working conditions and the rights of our employees based on international conventions and local laws, including freedom of association, are respected. As in the case of environmental policies, adherence to our labor and social programs and policies is monitored and validated by frequent internal and external audits.”

He said the families of the company’s employees and the communities in which they live also benefit from the numerous community involvement and charitable programs the company and its employees fund and support through volunteerism. 

“These programs are designed to help local neighborhoods flourish, improve the quality of life, and provide the tools and knowledge to sustain healthy and productive communities,” he said, noting the company granted 640 merit-based scholarships in Central America in 2017. Fair Trade certification programs were designed to ensure that employees of smaller production companies have the same support programs available to them as the ones enjoyed by employees of companies such as Del Monte.

Christou said other key highlights and sustainability achievements for Del Monte Fresh include:

  • Since 1994, the company has recycled 130,000 tons of plastic from its banana farms;
  • Since 2006, the company has planted more than 1.3 million saplings as part of its commitment to sustainability. 

Christou said Del Monte continues to invest significant resources in working to progress its business in all segments and channels. 

“We are always working to set the bar for the industry in every aspect of our banana program, including quality, innovation, food safety, and sales,” he said. 

“Our current focus includes configuring our banana program to utilize sustainable RPC boxes, and we are discussing retailer-ready display box opportunities with our customers.”

Consumer thirst for knowledge

Bil Goldfield, director of corporate communications for Dole Food Co., Westlake Village, Calif., said consumers are increasingly interested in how and where their fruit is grown. “Dole works hard to share all the sustainable activities being done in Latin America,” he said, noting the company’s activities focus on transparency and being a good steward of the environment (through Good Agricultural Practices), sharing its know-how with local growers, its work with DALE Foundation, leading the industry in ISO14001 certification, supporting employees with health clinics, infrastructure and more.

“In 2017, Dole and its workers and Fair Trade USA jointly launched community centers in surrounding communities of Cutris in San Carlos and Guacimo in Limon, Costa Rica, near Dole’s pineapple farms,” he said. 

“In this program Dole-grown Fair Trade pineapples help drive additional money to pineapple farmworkers to invest in projects of their choosing. In this case a sports structure is projected to be built at centers supporting the local farm populations, which will be a powerful addition to community life.