Exports fell by 4% year-on-year in 2018 to US$841 million, according to Procomer.
Jorge Sauma, general manager of the National Banana Growers’ Corporation, Corbana, said that the second half of last year especially was challenging for the industry.
“The first half was good, but in the second we fell a little bit. We think that of the total … [there was] a deficit of around 8-10 million boxes,” he said.
Growers faced challenges including excessive heat and lack of water availability. He said temperatures, which impact greatly on banana production, were stable in 2017 but not so in 2018. The situation is expected to linger into much of 2019, he said.
“This year we are going to be slightly lower first half, so perhaps this year will be similar to 2018,” he said.
The industry is expecting to export around 119-120 million boxes, which are mainly sent to their two leading markets, the U.S. and Europe. Some small volumes are also sent to the Middle East, and the country is interested in a number of Asian markets.
“We are interested in Japan and South Korea, but we will need to look into the logistical aspects, as with China,” he said.
In February APM Terminals is set to open a new modern terminal which Sauma hopes will serve as a logistics hub and facilitate exports to China.
“Hopefully it becomes a hub, that would help us a lot in eventually increasing out penetration of the Chinese market,” he said.
While Costa Rica does currently ship bananas to China, volumes are very low in part due to the distance to the market. But the new terminal could potentially allow for a much more direct route, which would take 30-37 days, he said.
Aldi’s planned banana price cut
Sauma also said that he has not heard any news related to the planned price cut announced by Germany-based Aldi last year. The discount supermarket chain said it would reduce banana prices by around a dollar per box, to the dismay of numerous production countries which said it would have a huge impact on growers.
Many Latin American countries released statements slamming Aldi’s plans, and South Africa has since joined the chorus of condemnation.
Correction Jan. 8: This article has previously indicated that Aldi had planned to cut banana prices by one dollar per kilogram when in fact it was by one dollar per box. This has now been changed in the article.