U.S.: Organic banana margins tightening on conventional, says importer

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U.S.: Organic banana margins tightening on conventional, says importer

San Diego-based importer Organics Unlimited is looking at new ways to adapt to a changing market environment as more competition comes on the scene in the organic produce space. mayra-velazquez-de-leon-organics-unlimited

"I’d say we’re now at a lower margin compared to conventional bananas than what we used to be," president Mayra Velazquez de Leon told www.freshfruitportal.com during the recent Produce Marketing Association (PMA) Fresh Summit in Orlando.

"Everybody is trying to get there into organics, and we’re just trying to be out there and let our customers know we’re pioneers in the organic banana business."

Organics Unlimited has undergone a rebranding in the process, and is also engaging in new initiatives to promote its sustainability and community-oriented GROW label.

"So far they [buyers] love it [the rebrand]. They like the fact they can use it for display, and mostly that they have a new look in the box," she said.

"We’re also doing advertising on buses in the Portland area. That seems to be attracting attention."

The company maintains a strong presence in the U.S. Northwest, and if the Portland bus advertising campaign goes well the idea may be extended to Seattle, Washington State.

She said the grow project continued to focus on the "usual" types of projects, including scholarships, clean water programs, dental cleaning and clinic services.

"And in Ecuador we do microbusinesses for teenagers, early development for children and we’re doing the same thing a little bit with the U.S. border with Mexico."

"We’re a small company but we are packing for Chiquita, so it’s not a vision but it just tells you where the market’s going. So even though we’re packing for them we still have our own labels – the organics label and our social responsibility label which is GROW."

In terms of growing conditions, she said weather had generally been good.

In other crops, business has also been booming in organic coconuts and plantains.

"We’re working on growing that acreage [for coconuts]. We never have enough – every single week we’re short on coconuts," Velazquez de Leon said.

"We have to expand, and they're organic coconuts - there are fewer organic coconuts on the market.

"The other product is plantains – I think there’s more demand for plantains than there used to be in the plantains in the U.S. There is more interest at play," she said, attributing the growth to a rise in Latino populations in the U.S.

She said depending on which part of Latin America populations hailed from originally, they tended to consume plantains differently.

For example, in general terms she said people from the Caribbean would often choose greener plantains for cooking, while Mexican immigrants tended to wait until the plantains were more spotted so they would have a sweeter flavor.

"If you get the ones that are riper, the ones that are spotted, they’re easier to peel and they also taste better as they have more of a sweet taste, whereas the green ones are starchier.

"Caribbean people eat them when they’re green – they deep fry them, more like chips, whereas Mexicans eat them ripe as more of a dessert.



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