U.S.: Equal Exchange draws "introspective view" on global supply chain

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U.S.: Equal Exchange draws

As part of Equal Exchange's banana month during March, the U.S. company is highlighting the story of the people behind its supply chain to raise awareness about the industry. 

The group also experienced substantial growth last year in both its banana and avocado categories.

The entity's subsidiary and produce arm Oke USA Fruits sources organic Fairtrade bananas exclusively from grower cooperatives in Peru and Ecuador consisting of small-holder farmers, marketing the fruit under the Equal Exchange brand.

This year it is telling the story of Ecuadorian grower Mariana Cobos, who overcame many obstacles to join one of Equal Exchange's partner cooperative AsoGuabo a decade ago, and Tom Yachtis - a "mastermind" banana ripener at the other end of the supply chain on the U.S. East Coast.

Speaking to Fresh Fruit Portal, Oke USA Fruits representatives Brooke Werley and Jessica Jones-Hughes explained the supply chain model took "Fairtrade to the next level".

"We are focused on working with small-scale farmers organized into cooperatives who trade as directly as possible with importers and consumers in the U.S.," Werley said, saying the model provided more benefits to growers than Fairtrade alone.

The company recently sent out materials to retailers and distributors across the country and plans to spend the rest of the month getting in contact with their accounts directly.

Werley said the activities and materials piggybacked on some of last year's events. Last year Cobos visited the U.S. on a sponsored visit and was overjoyed to find bananas produced by her farm in a Minnesota store. A photo taken of her with the bananas is now being used this March to help tell the people's story.

"Being able to share that experience and story to keep that going through this promotion period is exciting because it has a much more personal feel to it," she said.

Jones-Hughes said that every March the company tried to talk about the banana supply chain through a different angle, and this year was proving successful in showing the faces behind it. 

"The stores all get hard copies of all materials and also we have electronic newsletter where we send a bunch of information. We try to give stores ideas of how to use them, and we will also be sending a Podcast next week which we hope everyone will listen to," she said.

Next week an article written by Mildred Alvarado will also be distributed, which examines the importance for banana farmers to organize into cooperatives in an industry dominated by multinationals and where high costs and low returns are all too common.

The article also talks about the numerous challenges faced by growers when trying to organize into cooperatives in the first place.

"We are really encouraging the store level and consumer level engagement about what is the story behind these small farmers, making people think a little bit about where their food comes from," Jones-Hughes said.

Werley added it was a challenging message to communicate to consumers.

"It’s hard because how do you get that story across thousands of miles and many players in the supply chain?" she said.

"That’s what we’re getting at when we share these materials and these stories - that this model is better for farmers and that it is more difficult for farmers as well. We're trying to draw out an introspective view on where food comes from globally."

Sales skyrocket

The company said this month's Equal Exchange was "extra exciting" as it was also celebrating a growth in year-on-year sales during 2016 of 36.5% across both avocados and bananas.

"In 2017, we are adding to that an additional 40% growth in our banana volumes vs 2016," the company said.

"This has allowed us to double our purchases from CEPIBO banana coop in Peru, and increase our purchases by 30% from AsoGuabo cooperative in Ecuador. This also means that many more consumers in the US will be aware of and exposed to Equal Exchange fair trade bananas."

A sample of the materials sent out to retailers during Banana Month highlighting Ecuadorian banana grower Mariana Cobos


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