Mexican banana brand picks up where Chiquita left off

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Mexican banana brand picks up where Chiquita left off

Groupe Cabal has launched the 'Bananas de Mexico' brand in a bid to change perceptions about the country's fruit, incorporating growers left behind by Chiquita's new approach to sourcing.

Carlos Cabal

Carlos Cabal - "We are planting because we have clients. What we don't have enough of is product"

Company representative Carlos Cabal said even though subsidiary San Carlos was Mexico's leading banana exporter and was planting around 500 hectares each year, it had been unable to keep up with demand.

"Historically our brand San Carlos is what clients have recognized, but we have fought a lot as Mexicans against the perception in markets about Mexican product," Cabal told during Fruit Logistica in Berlin last week.

"We have a strong domestic consumption, so during the first half of the year like now many small grower-exporters basically send fruit that isn’t very good.

"That means that the end customer punishes the Mexican origin fruit with prices of US$1-1.50 below Ecuadorian prices even though the fruit is of equal quality if not better."

So the group set about this in the most direct way possible - advertising their origin with pride.

"The idea we had was to bring together the best growers in Mexico, applying filters for quality controls and auditing in the field to guarantee the best practices, supported by the quality of San Carlos.

"What we have is a united front for bananas from Mexico - it's a project so that growers can access San Carlos’ client base, and we're trying to promote ourselves more based on our country of origin."

But the move has arguably been demand-driven. Cabal pointed to banana disease problems in some growing countries and the impacts of hurricanes squeezing supply.

"We are planting because we have the clients. What we don’t have enough of is product.

"Mexico is very well placed geographically and logistically. It’s very attractive – we have the land, quality and will to reach the large supermarkets of Europe," he said.

But who are these high quality growers that have come on board with the Bananas de Mexico cause? Much of the answer lies in an apparent change of strategy from multinational Chiquita Brands after it was purchased by Brazil's Cutrale and Safra Groups.

"The Brazilians bought them, they were arriving with a commercial strategy to reduce prices, reduce contracts, but in Mexico they have left producers who are trained," Cabal said.

"We are looking to grow the future for the producers  – Chiquita probably did the same, but as Mexicans we are trying to provide for Mexico, not like a multinational that arrives and tomorrow you don’t know if it will continue or find something more attractive in Panama or Brazil."

He said that beforehand, Chiquita paid "sensational" prices to growers that couldn't be sustained.

"I think Chiquita made a mistake paying very expensive prices...I know that Chiquita has a premium in the United States and Italy, but they were prices that weren’t in line with the market.

"If you drop the price by a dollar from a price they were used to for many years, it doesn’t go very well."

And it seems in this case that Chiquita's loss might be San Carlos' gain.

"These growers don’t know how to export – Chiquita did that job – so they will see how they export, or put it in the local market and we’d all be destroyed," he said.

"Seeing these growers left behind is what made us decide to do this."



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