Japan in BanaBay's sights this year
The Ecuadorian-British company made its first inroads into Singapore this year, and is finding increased Asian demand for organic and fairtrade fruit.
It might be the slowest time of the year for banana shipments from Ecuador, but BanaBay has been using the time to gear up for new export horizons - both in types of products and destinations.
The group's senior business development manager for Asia, Yuchi Li, tells www.freshfruitportal.com BanaBay is currently mainly focused on banana exports when it comes to its Asian markets, which includes the Gulf states.
"On the fresh produce side we are looking for pineapples, mangoes, avocados - those are the main products we are trying to develop at the moment, and we’d like to develop some non-fresh products like banana flowers, banana purees and juice, all coming from Ecuador," he says.
"As BanaBay we cover a lot of Asian countries like China, we have have already shipped to Korea and Singapore as well and to the Russian Far East in Vladivostok, and we did a lot of containers to the Middle East.
"I’m trying to export to Japan and I gained a lot of meaningful contact during the event [Asia Fruit Logistica in Hong Kong]."
He says the target is to export bananas this year to Japan, where retailers are in search of a steady supply of conventional bananas and fruit with additional certifications.
"For example we received a couple of queries from Japan. They are looking for fairtrade bananas, and we sent some fairtrade bananas to Singapore as well," he says.
Singapore is the most recent export development, starting earlier this year, while exports to South Korea began in 2014.
When asked about competition with Philippine fruit in Asia, Li emphasizes the competitive advantages of the Ecuadorian product's durability and flavor.
"With Philippine bananas, even though logistically they are much closer to China, they have a lot of issues between the two countries on the political side and also on the supply side.
"They suffer from typhoons almost every year so the supply will always be interrupted at some stage and the price is not stable – we can provide a much more stable price.
"Ecuadorian bananas are far better than the local production and also, compared to Philippine bananas, Ecuadorian bananas are stronger, easier to keep, have a longer shelf life and the taste is much better," he claims.
With its roots trading bananas in Europe, the biggest challenge for BanaBay's Asian business has been distance from the market.
"It’s more of a contract market than a spot market. People cannot negotiate the price every week," Li says.
"The second thing is, China is looking for a bigger volume but they are looking for more stable volumes. They are looking for the long term relationships," he says, adding this is also the case in Japan, South Korea and Singapore.
"It's because retailers are maintaining the markets and want a weekly supply with the same product supply as well."
Li estimates BanaBay ships 20-30 containers of bananas to the Asian market per month on average, depending on the season, and highlights El Niño's lingering effects have led to higher prices due to supply conditions.
"Overall price this year has been much higher than last year – even now it’s the slack season, but the price is still much higher than last year."