Despite plentiful production, fans of bananas around the world may soon see an increase in prices, as the price of the popular fruit is affected by the increase in the cost of raw materials across the globe. Overall, however, the outlook for bananas is good, as the fruit remains the most popular item of its kind in Italy, and Australia reaches its second highest level of production ever. Cold weather in South Africa has, however, caused a decline in production this year, and the TR4 strain of the Panama disease continues continues to threaten the future of bananas.
The Netherlands: Stable banana market, but concerns about raw material shortage towards next year
The banana market in the Netherlands is currently developing steadily. According to an insider from the banana industry, there is not much out of the ordinary going on. "The supply is at a normal level. Prices are very stable on the free market. However, everyone is currently busy drawing up the balance for next year. Many raw materials are in limited supply, such as energy, gas, transport and pallets, and the entire fresh produce industry, including bananas, will feel the consequences of this. Therefore, for next year I foresee a rise in banana prices.”
Germany: Quiet summer with a slight plus
A company from Northern Germany offers conventionally grown bananas from South America. According to the trader the summer 2021 was quite quiet with regards to the interest in bananas, but compared to last year, the prices have risen slightly. They will start with the season at the end of October/beginning of November 2021 and end around February/March 2022. Their produce comes mainly from Colombia, although some bananas are also sourced from Ecuador. He considers the Colombian bananas to be among the best.
Due to the increased container and freight costs, the prices have risen somewhat compared with to last year, in which the prices have been extremely low (approx. under 9 Euros per box), because of the lower priced imports from the Netherlands.
The company works with one major import partner in Hamburg and Berlin each, and with two in Bremen. The goods are delivered either by pallet or container. In the summer, there were delivery problems with certain products from Colombia, which were probably related to the riots in Colombia at the beginning of the year. As a result, there were delays lasting for weeks.
The demand on the German market is not that great compared to last year. However, a slight plus can be seen. Although many products have increased prices, Bananas are as cheap as ever, the trader says. He also offered organic bananas for a short time, but said it was no longer profitable.
UK: Drop in banana prices
Banana prices on the Birmingham and London wholesale markets fell this week. The biggest decrease was seen on bananas imported from Belize which fell from £0.79 per kg to £0.57 a drop of £0.22. Imports from Colombia and Costa Rica fell by £0.07 and £0.08 to £0.70 and £0.083 respectively. Other sources such as Ecuador Guatemala fell slightly (£0.02) with supply from Panama staying the same as last week.
Italy: Purchases of bananas are the most frequent
According to the data from GfK Consumer Panel, bananas generate the most traffic at the point of sale, in Italy, when compared not only to other fresh fruit categories but also with gastronomy products, cheeses and cured meats, and even to the packaged products. Over the last year, in fact, 368 million bananas purchase acts have been made by Italian families, taking into account any supply channel. On average, bananas are bought 17.4 times/year (more than once a month) compared to, for example, 12.1 times/year for apples, 10.2 for oranges and 8.1 for lemons. The average purchase is about 1 kg, which is stable over the last 3 years. This purchasing trend was however negative, in the last year, in comparison with the very high purchases levels during 2020 (first year of the pandemic). With regard to organic bananas, 6.1 million Italian families buy them (23.6% of the total of the families), but their penetration rate has dropped in 2021 compared to 2020.
An important operator in the northern Italy, who imports and ripens bananas from Costa Rica, says that after a very negative month of August, and a settling in September, in these first days of October the banana market in Italy is finding its place again. The last two weeks have seen an increase in prices with 15-16 euros per carton for the yellow product.
Almost the whole increase in profit is erased, however, by higher logistics and packaging costs. The classic cardboard packaging, which cost $ 1.30 (1.12 euro) a few months ago, now costs $ 2 (1.70 euro). Moreover, logistic costs have reached record highs, not to mention the strengthening of the dollar against the euro which penalizes importers.
According to the operator, there was a strong crisis in August due to an accumulation of fruit and low consumption that caused prices and exports to the foreign markets to collapse, with a lot of wasted product. However, since the beginning of October, also thanks to the schools going back, consumption has increased and become more regular. In general, however, it is a strange, irregular market which does not offer long-term planning possibilities.
South Africa: Cold weather slows banana production, causing high prices
The heavy rains of late summer followed by a cold winter and many days of overcast weather slowed the growth rate of bananas, resulting in a lot of medium-sized bananas currently on the market and a slightly delayed season.
The past three weeks, for instance, have been cool, slowing down the banana harvest. Banana prices are around 10 to 15% higher than usual this time of the year, around R100 (5.8 euros) – R120 (6.8 euros) on medium, R150 (8.7 euros) – R160 (9.3 euros) on large and R180 (10.45 euros) to R200 (11.62 euros) on extra large, but on selected bananas it can go as high as R220 (12.78 euros) per 18kg carton
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, Mozambique overtook South Africa’s banana production in 2012, Mozambique produced almost 725,000 tonnes of bananas in 2019 compared to South Africa’s 405,000 tonnes but this claim is contested by some banana producers in the region who counter that Mozambique will only overtake South African production within seven to ten years.
The production cycle is quicker in Mozambique, soils are disease-free, the climate is more tropical with warmer soils, and the fruit is larger, yet there are regions in northeastern South Africa where bananas remain profitable and where there is expansion.
Mozambique has emerged from a 7-year drought with the last good rains in 2014; 2020 was the first year with good rains since then.
South African banana plantations are being removed to make way for other crops such as citrus, avocados and macadamias while there are new banana plantations being established next to the Nkomati River which crosses through South Africa, Eswatini and into Mozambique.
The feared TR4 strain of Panama disease is still contained to localized areas in northern Mozambique. In southern Mozambique, where much of South Africa’s bananas are grown, farms are implementing strict biosecurity measures.
China: Low prices despite high quality
These last few months were the low sales season for bananas. The supply of bananas in the domestic production areas is generally sufficient, and the number of orders has been greatly reduced. Market demand for specialty bananas has also decreased.
The supply in Guangdong production areas has gradually decreased, and the market price has been running steadily and weakly. The mainstream prices of good products in the production areas are mostly around 1-1.4 yuan/kg. Guangdong Yangjiang bananas are in the peak season for the market, and Yangjiang bananas are a good harvest year. The color, taste and overall quality of bananas this year have improved compared with previous years, with a yield of 8-9 tons per mu. The current purchase price in field is 0.8 yuan/kg, which is nearly three times lower than the price in previous years.
The supply of bananas from Guangxi area has gradually increased, but recently merchants have not been enthusiastic about purchasing, and transactions in the production areas have followed suite, weakening prices slightly. The mainstream price of good products in Nanning production area is 2-2.5 yuan/kg, but the overall price level is still higher than other production areas.
At present, bananas in various production areas in Hainan have entered the stage of finishing up, and most of the banana orchards have been cleared. The quality of the finished bananas is different, and the prices in the producing areas are quite different. The mainstream price of Chengmai production area’s banana is around 1.6 yuan/kg.
Laos bananas in China
According to an announcement issued by the Yunnan Health Commission on October 7, a cross-border freight dispatcher at the Zhonglao Mohan Port was confirmed as positive for COVID-19. Many insiders of the Lao Banana industry confirmed that the current port cargo has indeed been closed, and it is difficult for Lao bananas to pass to the customs in the short term. Some bases choose to store fruits in cold storage, but the storage time is limited.
Vietnamese bananas in China
Some of the banana plantations in Vietnam expanded the surface area devoted to banana plantation. The overall production volume grew by 20%-30% compared to last year. Most banana plantations in Vietnam that export to China are actually owned by Chinese companies. They primarily produce for the Chinese market, and often sell their entire harvest in China, which has an impact on the conditions in the Chinese banana market.
Filippino bananas in China
Some of the smaller banana plantations in the Philippines lack the resources to cope with the added difficulties during the pandemic. That is why the product quality of their bananas is declining. Many smaller plantations struggle with Panama disease. The banana export from the Philippines to China declined by nearly 30%. However, the management in larger plantations remains up to regular standards. Both their production volume and product quality remain unaffected. These bananas are very popular in the Chinese market.
Myanmar bananas in China
Internal unrest in Myanmar affects their banana export. Add to this situation the pandemic, and its impact on overland transport, and the banana export from Myanmar to China has significantly declined.
South American bananas in China
The South American banana export volume to China declined by nearly 60% because of the Covid-19 pandemic. South America is far removed from China and distribution is difficult. Add to this the proximity of Southeast Asia to the Chinese market, and it is easy to see why the position of South American bananas weakened. There is still a steady supply of some shipping containers per week that arrive in Dalian, north China, but most companies have temporarily halted banana import from South America.
North America: Organic and socially responsible bananas increasingly popular
Supplies of organic bananas are nearing the end of peak production for the year.
“While earlier in the year supply was affected by a number of storms, supply today is right where it’s to be expected,” says one organic produce grower-shipper, who adds that supplies are similar to last year at this time.
Its primary growing operations are in Colima, Mexico along with a network of family farmers in both Mexico and Ecuador. However, competing product is also coming from Peru. The grower-shipper notes that Mexico is expanding its role in the organic banana category. “The organic banana industry in Mexico has supplied more than seven million boxes of bananas to the U.S. in the past 12 months,” they say. “Mexico recently became the second-largest source of organic bananas to America, second to Ecuador.” They add that with this rate of growth, Mexico could become the largest source of organic bananas for the U.S. in the coming years.
Meanwhile demand continues to rise globally for organic bananas, but particularly so in the U.S., Canada and Asia. “We don’t see consumption of organics slowing down anytime soon as numbers show consistent upward growth and market penetration,” they say. “This makes sense as organic becomes mainstream. Nearly all retailers are looking to offer organic.” What is becoming an increasing product differentiator is social responsibility.
While that’s the good news, the bad news is that rising costs around organic bananas are a significant concern. “We have absorbed increasing costs with respect to contract pricing. But the overall costs of production have also gone up significantly,” says the grower-shipper. “Packing material prices have risen nearly 20 percent, plastic bags have gone up 15 percent and fertilizer prices have doubled.” They also add that labor costs have increased nearly by double digits.
While those are pressing concerns, there are others including the global supply chain issues (which have also put pressure on logistics costs) and recent climate disasters, notably Hurricanes Dolores and Nora that have impacted production areas and generated loss of fruit and additional unexpected costs.
In turn, those higher production costs on smaller yields per hectare are playing out in pricing. “Even with higher spot market prices, growers don’t always get to take advantage of the better prices because of contract pricing. The field price for organic bananas has dropped 20 percent over the last few years even as the growers’ costs have gone up due to rising labor and input costs,” says the grower-shipper. In turn, they encourages retailers to support smaller, organic growers by paying a fair price.
Australia: Second highest ever banana production
The last financial year was a highly successful one, with the industry reaching the second-highest ever production in 2020/21, based on levy dollars collected by the Government; the 403,000 tonnes in 2020/21 was surpassed only in 2016/17 with 414,000 tonnes. While exact figures need to be confirmed, these figures provide an approximation, based on the levy paid to the government, but it does not take into account fruit that is not sold, while there may also be a lag on some June sales. These compulsory levies cover research and development projects, such as marketing and the management of Panama Tropical Race 4 disease, and to conduct activities that aim to improve biosecurity within the banana industry.
The strong production estimates come despite many challenges for the industry including the worker shortage that has affected the horticulture industry nationally due to COVID-19 border closures. While Far North Queensland also had to recover from a severe weather low, which caused some major damage to banana farms, which put a solid 20 per cent supply dint - as well as the TR4 problem that is not going anywhere. At the Banana Congress, earlier in the year, ABCG Board Member and grower Paul Inderbitzin described the past year, by saying: "It hasn't got to the position where anyone is seriously short of fruit, but it has been one of the most significant and unbelievable challenges that we have all had to work through". The Australian banana industry currently does not export any significant volumes, with supply remaining exclusively on the domestic market.
Next week: Global Melons!