The economy may be weak, but the strong demand for organic bananas has led some companies to develop new farms in Central and South America.

Organic bananas demand rising

“Growth in organic bananas has been increasing steadily as consumers show greater interest in knowing where their food originates,” said Bil Goldfield, communications manager for Dole Food Co, Westlake Village, Calif.

Dennis Christou, vice president of marketing for Del Monte Fresh Produce, Coral Gables, Fla., also reports an increase in demand for its organic fruit.

David Hahn, buyer for independent wholesaler Four Seasons Produce Inc., Ephrata, Pa., said organics has been a huge growth area and now represents 35% of the company’s business.

“It used to be a half a load of bananas total,” Hahn said, “but in the past year and a half it has grown to (about two) loads.”

Of that number, one load a week is organic fruit for Dole, he said, and close to a load and a half represents Fair Trade organic from Ecuador for the Equal Exchange program.

Chiquita International Brands, meanwhile, has been developing additional farms in Ecuador, Peru and Colombia in the last year and a half, said Craig Stephen, vice president North America for bananas.

Organics Unlimited, San Diego, recently expanded its operation to certified farms in Ecuador. The bulk of its production, however, remains in Mexico, which has caught the attention of locavores.

 â€œAdding another item to the category helps bring more attention to all bananas, and helps all sales,” Goldfield said.

Though consumers now expect an organic offering in just about every food product, the supply of organic bananas will always be limited, Stephen said.

“Being able to grow organic bananas is pretty difficult,” he said. “Because they require a lot of water and humidity, they’re susceptible to fungal diseases that are traditionally taken care of by chemicals.”