Bananas on display at Carnival Fresh Market in Brooklyn, N.Y. ( Amy Sowder )

After a challenging supply year in 2018, banana marketers expect a diversified supply base will keep the North American market well-supplied in 2019.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that U.S. imports of bananas totaled 4.2 million metric tons in 2018, down 4% from 2017. By value, imports of bananas totaled $1.91 billion in 2018, up 2% from 2017.

North American supply of bananas has been growing at a compounded annual growth rate of plus-2% from 2012-17, said Jamie Postell, director of sales for Chiquita Brands, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Postell said weather-related circumstances made 2018 a challenging year.

Bananas consumed in North America are sourced mainly from Central America, and Postell said that trend will continue.
“For the year ahead, Chiquita continues working on a strategic sourcing portfolio to guarantee supply continuity,” he said. “Chiquita maintains a diversified sourcing matrix to allow for volume recovery from any potential geographically isolated events.” 

At the same time, Chiquita sustains its aggressive farm rejuvenation program to target increased production yields across owned banana farms.

Dennis Christou, vice president of marketing for Del Monte Fresh Produce, Coral Gables, Fla., said Del Monte Fresh Produce sources its bananas from Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Ecuador. During 2019, Del Monte Fresh Produce will introduce banana sourcing from Panama and Colombia.

“The current outlook for supply of Dole bananas looks good throughout 2019, said Bil Goldfield, director of corporate communications for Dole Food Co., Westlake Village, Calif.

“Dole has one of the most robust shipping and logistics systems in the world, with a diverse range of growing locations that allow us to provide quality bananas year-round, regardless of weather conditions,” Goldfield said. 

Dole harvests bananas throughout Latin America, including Costa Rica, Columbia, Guatemala, Honduras and Ecuador.

Organic outlook

Postell said organics have been gaining sales momentum over the past few years and now represent 9.5% value share of the total banana category. Between 2011-2017, Postell said organic bananas grew dollar sales at a compounded annual growth rate of 23.5%, according to statistics from the Nielsen Perishables Group.

“The growth in organic bananas is mainly driven by increased distribution, in response to consumer demand and their interest in transparency across the supply chain process, and free-from products,” Postell said.

Chiquita’s sustainability efforts put the company in a strong sourcing position for organic fruit, Postell said.

Del Monte continues to see growth in the organic banana segment and has experienced increased sales for the past few several years, Christou said.

“Meeting the demands of consumers who want organic produce, Del Monte Fresh Produce Co. offers an entire line of organic banana products,” he said. 

“All packs come in 40-pound boxes like our conventional bananas and include Organic Naked, Organic Banded, Organic 2-pound Banded, Organic Bagged, and Organic 3-pound bagged.”

Dole is the current market share leader in organic bananas at U.S. retailers, Goldfield said. 

“We started our organic program over 20 years ago, and Dole is now the largest grower and distributor of premium organic bananas in North America,” he said. “Our organic production and diverse sourcing network has allowed us to ensure steady supply and keep up with the increasing demand for organic bananas in recent years.”

Goldfield said organic banana sales continue to climb every year and are a permanent mainstream option for consumers.

Goldfield said Nielsen syndicated data showed that overall dollar sales of organic bananas increased 9.3% from 2017-18, reaching an industry total of $290 million, ranking organic bananas among the top five best-selling organic fresh produce items. 

Variety options

While cavendish is the dominant variety for all marketers, consumers do have options.

“There is continuous growth in demand for specialty bananas,” Christou said. 

“Consumers have developed more sophisticated tastes and as trends in healthy eating and interest in new tropical foods continue to grow, so does the demand for exotic and specialty bananas.” 

He said Del Monte offers red banana, baby banana, manzano and plantain programs.
In addition to the cavendish banana that is sold as conventional and organic, Postell said Chiquita sells Chiquita minis, plantains, manzanos and reds.

Goldfield said Dole is the U.S. market leader in both organic and conventional cavendish bananas but also sees growing interest in Dole’s specialty banana varieties, including plantains, baby bananas and red bananas. 

“These types of bananas are becoming more prevalent — not just at specialty and ethnic retailers, but at mainstream supermarkets alongside the conventional cavendish bananas,” he said. 

“Consumers find the smaller varieties like baby bananas and red bananas are a great snack option that are popular with kids, while plantains are popular with consumers and restaurants for a wide range of cooking possibilities and cultural cuisines.”

Dole is building awareness and demand for the unconventional bananas by including them in recipes and serving ideas, plus featuring them in media and blogger events, he said.