Going bananas for bananas from Ecuador

It survives every crisis and holds its own despite any trend – the banana is always there. Reybanpac plantations in Ecuador exports about 500,000 tonnes of bananas each year in roughly 27,000 containers.

Cloudy, muggy and a hot 30 degrees Celsius – for the northwestern part of South America, this is typical tropical weather. We start our journey in Guayaquil. It has the most important port and is the second-largest city in Ecuador, after Quito, the capital city. Some three million people live in Guayaquil’s greater metropolitan area. The country’s main export goods – bananas, shrimps, cocoa and coffee – have been shipped from here all over the world for decades. We fly for about an hour in a small airplane before reaching the Reybanpac plantations. The company has over 6,500 hectares (16,000 acres) of banana plantations in Ecuador alone, where bananas are cultivated on a total of 180,000 hectares. We can already see the green banana bunches from the air. Belonging to the Favorita Group, Reybanpac is one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of bananas. We have an appointment to meet with International Business Manager Mónica Molineros and Commercial Manager Vicente Andrés Wong. The two escort us to the “Hacienda Norma Gisella” plantation covering 325 hectares. Harvesting takes place throughout the year, every week, every day – including today.

The employees climb up ladders quickly and almost acrobatically, and then use machetes to knock the huge hanging clusters of bananas – known as bunches – off the plants. People around the world are crazy about bananas, and the export volumes are going up with each passing year. We want to find out what makes bananas so magical. “It’s their taste, their colour and their curved shape,” says Mónica Molineros. “Who knows what would have become of it if it had looked like a stick!” While the bananas here on the plantation are bright green and surrounded by a natural packaging, most of us are used to seeing bananas in a range of yellow colours and consistencies: as a healthy snack straight out of the peel, but also as juice, in cakes, for cooking or as baby food. “Consumers in the United States like their bananas at colour level three or four, so not too sweet,” explains Vicente Andrés Wong. “But the Japanese prefer to eat bananas at colour level five or six, meaning at a much riper stage.” During the growing season, Reybanpac wraps the hanging bunches in plastic bags to protect them from insects, volcanic ash and scratches. The bunches develop from the enormous blossoms. Here, we can see exactly why bananas have their curved shape: Instead of hanging down, they bend upwards towards the light.

After 10 to 13 weeks, each so-called “finger” of the fruit reaches a length of 25 centimetres and a thickness of 39 to 47 millimetres. The location here is in the southern hemisphere, so it is the perfect place to grow cold-hating bananas. Ecuador benefits from having a particularly favourable geographical location: “When it is winter in the northern hemisphere, we have unbeatable summer weather here – with enough light, warmth and also rain,” Vicente Andrés Wong explains. “That’s precisely when demand is at its highest in our traditional market in the northern hemisphere, where there are few regional seasonable fruits to compete with us. This makes the volumes that come from Ecuador particularly interesting.” Other producer countries have very similar weather patterns as the primary sales markets in the northern hemisphere. This means they only reach the peak of their production when global demand is diminishing and thus have a competitive disadvantage. Ecuador’s soil is also ideal, as its volcanic elements help to make the bananas more durable after the ripening process. “From Ecuador, we can reach very distant markets, such as China, Russia, the Middle East and Europe,” says Mónica Molineros.

To enjoy commercial success, Reybanpac must rely on its logistics partners every week. For the container shipping industry, this mainly means ensuring regular sailings, sticking to schedules, guaranteeing availability in ports – and, of course, offering a unique reefer product. “For example, if there is a trans - shipment that delays the shipment by a week, our customer doesn’t have fruit for an entire week, which would be disastrous,” explains Mónica Molineros. Other products, such as apples, can be warehoused for three to six weeks, but bananas have to be shipped immediately after being harvested. Reybanpac uses digital booking and tracking tools to manage the transports even more efficiently, but – especially in times of crisis – it appreciates being able to rely on responsive and flexible customer service professionals. Thus, as our hosts confirm, they can feel very good about working with Hapag-Lloyd. The 55,000 KIlOs of bananas in the crop we have watched today will fill 2,500 crates bound for Russia and Saudi Arabia. The last stop on location in Ec uador is a 40-foot refrigerated container of Hapag-Lloyd. “The fruit will be unloaded into ripening houses a few weeks later in their ports of destination, and then they will finally reach the consumers via retailers,” says Mónica Molineros. The bananas harvested today are just being loaded and will start their journey to the port by truck – at a comfortable and constant 13.3 degrees Celsius – from here to their final destination.

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