Year 2014 in Review - First Half
By Fresh Fruit Portal editor Matthew Ogg
What began as déjà vu with yet another Chilean port strike turned out to be a momentous year for the global produce industry, not least through the intense geopolitical tensions between Russia and the West, and a tumultous corporate love triangle involving two of the world's biggest fruit companies and a Brazilian suitor.
Many of the stories that emerged in the first half were mere seedlings of events to come. Amid the Ukrainian revolution in February, the executive of a leading German fruit business expressed vindication for not having expanded into the troubled region earlier.
"I was criticized for that years ago, but now nobody would like to criticize me for not investing money in facilities in the Ukraine," said BayWa chief executive Klaus Josef Lutz while also revealing plans for a joint venture in South America, which was to transpire with Unifrutti in Peru seven months later through subsidiary Turners & Growers.
Meanwhile, Polish growers were getting anxious about the prospect of losing their biggest market as a result of the country's support for the Ukraine in the Crimean crisis. As the ruble continued to fall and led to uncertainty in a once promising and open export market, Europejskie Centrum Owocowe marketing manager Paweł Zalewski forecast that the Russian ban "will happen"; he was referring specifically to Polish fruit, but the embargo that was to come in August reached as far as Australia, the U.S. and Canada.
South Africa's fruit industry was on its toes as well trying to find alternative export markets, as tightened measures against citrus black spot loomed ahead in the old continent.
"There's a perception amongst some in Europe that we don't care, that we think science is on our side so therefore why do anything? Why worry? And that's not the case at all," Citrus Growers Association (CGA) of Southern Africa CEO Justin Chadwick told us back in February.
"They're [markets] all very delicately balanced. You put a couple of hundred thousand cartons into some markets and they crash – we've done some studies that show we would lose probably half the revenue at least just from that," he said, discussing the potential loss of the European market. In May the European Commission announced emergency measures that were within South Africa's capabilities, but in September the country imposed its own export suspension to avert disaster and had already placed a greater emphasis on shipments to Asia and Russia.
Another nation hit by phytosanitary controls in Europe was India, whose mangoes and eggplants were banned from the market in March. Keith Vaz, a British MP for Leicester East, led a campaign to lift the ban but it was to no avail for the 2014 campaign. Surprisingly, Pakistani company Durrani Associates' response to the issue was the most read story of the year, encouraging his country's industry to avoid India's fate by utilizing a hot water treatment (HWT) facility in Karachi.
Two complex sagas also began in the U.S.; one more domestic than the other but both with global implications. Negotiations between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) would prove lengthy and unresolved for months on end, sparking intermittent delays at times for produce importers and also local citrus and apple exporters who were to regain Chinese market access during the course of the year.
The other was the proposed merger between Chiquita Brands and Fyffes, promising a partnership that aimed to create the world's leading banana company. Export associations in Ecuador and Colombia praised the move.
"A company of such magnitude, which initially would manage some 160 million boxes of bananas per year, would have a significant negotiating power with clients and also with its providers," said Urabá Banana Growers' Union (Unibán) president Dr. Luis Fernando Arango.
U.K.-based up-and-comer BanaBay didn't consider the proposed merger to be a threat, and in fact believed the combined organization would potentially be "unwieldy" and less able to react to customers.
"Will the merger impact negatively on growers? Potentially yes. Buying power for the new brand would be increased, whilst the number of customers available to growers would be reduced, so we would envisage more of an impact for growers than for end consumers," said managing director Mark O'Sullivan.
About two months after the proposal was announced, Chiquita announced it would return shipping operations to the Port of New Orleans once more after a long absence. CEO Ed Lonergan also made the bold statement that it would be "prudent" to plan for a life after the staple Cavendish banana variety, which is threatened by the spread of Panama Disease Race IV which has caused significant damages in Asia and parts of Australia. At the time of writing it had not yet reached the growing hub of the Americas.
With challenges such as these, the ChiquitaFyffes formation seemed to be a match made in heaven in a market environment where multinationals had lost significant power since 2002, but it was not to be. In the second half, a Brazilian consortium was to make a superior cash offer to Chiquita shareholders and eventually win them over.
These are just some of the issues that played out over the first six months of the year, giving way to an eventful second half that we will be reflecting on tomorrow. Below you can find a list of the top stories from January to June, as well as links to tag threads of some of the year's main topics. I would like to offer many thanks to all of our readers, contributors, sources and staff who made this diverse selection of news possible. If you would like to send feedback, story ideas or press releases, please contact us at email@example.com.
Texas prepares for boom in Mexican fresh imports. Click here
Pest prompts new requirements for Chilean blueberries. Click here
India: Syngenta aims for horticultural project rollout. Click here
Peru: Camposol plans avocado sourcing from new countries. Click here
Chinese smartphone app adopts fruit sales pitch. Click here
Port Manatee deal could bolster Del Monte import presence. Click here
Australian "super plum" growers confident ahead of harvest. Click here
U.S.: Florida expects peak blueberry season despite cold front. Click here
Step-by-step traceability builds safety into Brazilian food chain. Click here
U.S.: California Citrus Mutual releases freeze damage estimates. Click here
Swiss company bags innovation prize in Berlin. Click here
EU tightening could pose “huge danger” for global citrus industry. Click here
Germany: BayWa plans South American grape JV. Click here
Dole plans new South African grape farm acquisition. Click here
EU: EFSA releases citrus black spot assessment. Click here
U.S.: Albertsons-Safeway merger in the spotlight. Click here
EU ban forces Indian mango exporters to reevaluate. Click here
Singapore: Comcrop pioneers urban rooftop farming. Click here
Smartphone ripeness app to simplify produce purchases. Click here
Uncertainty over ruble and Crimea hits Russian produce importers. Click here
NZ: Thompson, Bayly claim kiwifruit duopoly export leak "misrepresentative". Click here
Film Review: Bananaland, confronting faces of a commodity fruit. Click here
Zimbabwe bans all fruit and vegetable imports. Click here
Collaboration key to contain Panama Disease comeback. Click here
Lemons to drag down Southern Hemisphere citrus production in 2014. Click here
India: Mahindra signs JV with Univeg. Click here
Multinationals lose grip on global banana exports. Click here
Russian import ban "will happen", says Polish grower group. Click here
Hard discounters change face of U.K. retail market. Click here
Belgian lab a diverse safeguard against 'bananageddon'. Click here
Pakistan's mango exports in hot water. Click here
It’s "prudent" to plan for life after Cavendish, says Chiquita CEO. Click here
EU imposes emergency control measures on South African citrus. Click here
Low wages and union violence tarnish Guatemala’s banana trade. Click here
U.S.: Chiquita shipping operations return to the Big Easy. Click here
Chile: Hortifrut combines with Argentine blueberry player. Click here
Fruit and vegetables lead U.S. organic sector's sales surge. Click here
Demand high, laws tightening for EU organic market. Click here
U.S.: union optimistic talks will be resolved without port strikes. Click here (Or here for more on how the issue has played out throughout 2014)
Maersk begins shipping revolution with new tech. Click here
Mexico blocks U.S. potato imports. Click here
U.S.: POM Wonderful responds to Supreme Court ruling against Coca Cola. Click here
Spain: Valencia fruit industry racked by hail. Click here
First human trial of GM bananas to take place in the U.S. Click here
U.S.: BrightFarms to ramp up greenhouse rollout. Click here
Inside New York’s bustling, lock-tight produce trading hub. Click here