Despite the poor economy, sales of organic bananas have grown more than 10% in the past year.
Chiquita organic bananas alone are up more than 25% in sales year on year, said Craig Stephen, vice president North American sales.
“We’re making significant progress,” said Stephen. “Bananas are particularly challenging to grow organically because they require significant amounts of water, and water encourages disease.”
Last month, Chiquita applied a special green sticker inviting consumers to its Facebook page to vote for a non-profit group most deserving of a $10,000 donation.
Chiquita has also created a new retail display rack for organic bananas.
“It creates a disruption for consumers and gets them to see and think differently about organics,” Stephen said.
Dennis Christou, vice president marketing for Del Monte Fresh Produce, said the supply of Del Monte organic bananas is excellent, and the market has been stable.
Mayra Velazquez de Leon, president of San Diego, Calif.-based Organics Unlimited, said her company’s year-old organic banana farm in Colima, Mexico, which it built from scratch, clearing land and installing irrigation and cable systems, has surpassed expectations.
We started with three containers a week, and now we’re up to six,” Velazquez de Leon said. “We babied those bananas, and it shows … the quality is incredible.”
On a recent visit to Seattle stores to promote her organic GROW bananas, which help support Mexican farm workers and their families, she said she was surprised to learn bananas were the top seller in August, when local fruit and summer vacation normally cause sales to drop.
“Organic sales started to pick up in September,” she said. “I see more moms picking them up for their kids, there are more stores geared to organic produce only, and I see a lot more organic everywhere, including the big chains.”
Barry Haynes, produce manager for the Ashland Food co-op in southern Oregon, said his department sells more than 600 pounds of GROW bananas a day, not only because they’re delicious but because his customers are committed to Organic Unlimited’s goals of helping communities in Colima and implementing fair labor and trade practices.
The co-op’s juice bar uses 30 pounds a day in smoothies and shakes, he said, and the new banana cream pie in the deli has been a big hit, along with banana bread and wheat-free banana muffins. All are sold with a GROW sticker and retail signs to promote the brand.
“In addition,” said Haynes, “we hand out free banana cards year-round to children ages 10 and under. Children who show their card receive a free organic banana on every visit.”
Art DiCesare, produce category merchant at Wegmans supermarkets, based in Rochester, NY, said the chain is happy with the continued growth of organic bananas, though it may not be as spectacular as last year. He sees several reasons for the success of organics.
“The 20-cent spread between conventional and organic is not a discouragement,” he said. “Even at 69 cents, depending on the city you’re in, those are wonderful retails. People who believe they’re healthier for you are becoming more loyal to organics, and I think they taste a little sweeter.”