In the banana business, process is almost as important as product, according to some marketers.
Organic bananas continue to gain market traction, marketers point out.
“Organic sales are growing across the industry, which has been a trend for the past several years,” said Dennis Christou, vice president of marketing with Coral Gables, Fla.-based Del Monte Fresh Produce Inc.
Westlake Village, Calif.-based Dole Food Co. notes that trend and is a believer in organic bananas, said Bil Goldfield, director of corporate communications.
“In recent years, we have seen strong growth in demand for Dole organic bananas, by both retailers and consumers,” Goldfield said.
Industry statistics demonstrate that organic is no longer “just a trend,” Goldfield said.
“Organic sales in the U.S. have reached record levels in recent years. and industry data indicates that organic foods will continue to play a major role in many consumer’s diets,” he said.
Marketing organic produce starts well before the customer reaches the produce section, Goldfield said.
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“Consumers have traditionally placed a ‘health halo’ on organic produce, but what the organic shopper is looking for the most is authenticity and transparency in their food choices,” he said.
Dole works to provide a greater understanding about “how and why we believe in organic farming” via its doleorganic.com website, Goldfield said.
“The experience also gives visitors the opportunity to enter farm codes and get specific data on exactly where and how their particular organic fruit was grown,” he said.
Some banana suppliers sell only organics, including Oke USA Fruit Co./Equal Exchange Produce, based in West Bridgewater, Mass.
“From my vantage point, in general, it seems to be growing,” said Angelica Hicks, banana category lead with the company.
“We’ve been always receiving more and more requests every year, and our volumes are going up, so it appears organic banana is a growing category for a lot of retailers.”
The company has distribution on the East and West coasts and in the upper Midwest, she said.
Organic and fair trade certification work hand-in-hand at Earl’s Organic Produce in San Francisco, said Rodrigo Velasquez, banana specialist.
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“Because customers have become more aware of the benefits of organic agriculture, we’re seeing an increase in demand, steady, for the last five years,” he said.
“Although customers know they don’t eat the whole banana, the farmworkers’ conditions have greatly improved if they work in a pesticide-free environment. Customers are aware that farmworkers in the plantation don’t get exposed to the pesticides in an organic operation.”
Fair trade certification provides assurance that farmworkers have good living conditions, Velasquez said.
“The second thing we’ve seen is customers prefer fair trade-certified bananas,” he said. “Not only do we do 100% organic, but we also do 100% fair trade-certified.”
Organic and fair trade go a long way to change long-held perceptions about banana production, Velasquez said.
“Bananas have a bad reputation of American intervention in Central America and the worker conditions — the old image of the banana republic and banana baron. Luckily for us, we’ve found there are a very good producers of a very good banana and are committed to organic and are fair trade-certified and are providing very good conditions to the workers,” he said.
“We’ve been very successful and our banana sales have increased because of consumer awareness of organic and fair trade.”