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US (PA): Billion bananas via Delaware ports

Billions of bananas arrive through the piers and terminals on the Delaware river headed to grocers, wholesalers, and produce markets across the country.

Wilmington is the largest banana port in North America, and is second only to Antwerp, Belgium, in banana cargoes in the world.

Dole Fresh Fruit Co. brings one ship a week, carrying more than 65 million bananas into the Christina River in Wilmington - this is equal to more than three billion bananas a year, said Dole vice president for operations Stuart Jablon.

Chiquita Brands International Inc. sails a ship weekly into Wilmington, loaded with several hundred containers of bananas, along with pineapples and plantains. The entire Delaware River is a an important river for the importation of bananas and topical fruits from Colombia, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, and Ecuador.

Del Monte Fresh Produce N.A. Inc. delivers 43 million bananas a week, or about 2.2 billion a year, into Gloucester Terminals L.L.C. in New Jersey, according to Del Monte spokesman Dennis Christou.

Turbana Corp. brings 800 million bananas annually into Pier 82 in South Philadelphia, and Banacol S.A. transports 260,000 tons of bananas a year into Penn Terminals in Chester. Turbana moved its fruit import business from Bridgeport, Conn., to Philadelphia in April 2009 "because here is more mainstream, with better road access, and truck availability," said Turbana CEO Juan Alarcon. "We were looking for more efficiency and to be closer to our customers," he said.

"The service that we get here is amazing. The labor is fantastic. And also we have a very good service provider, Penn Warehousing & Distribution."

The Wilmington port last year handled 1.4 million tons of tropical fruit, mostly bananas, said deputy executive port director Thomas Keefer.

What is the reason for so much fruit going into the country here?

"They are niche ports, so they are smaller ports," said Jablon, based in Wilmington with Dole. "Banana companies need to get their ships in and out quickly, so any port that has congestion is going to create havoc for our schedules. Remember, we are dealing with perishable produce."

Forty years ago, Chiquita and Dole berthed ships in New York but left because "it got very expensive and congested. We migrated down to Wilmington in the early 1980s," Jablon said.

The region is well-suited for the fruit industry - not too far north for ships bringing fresh fruit from the Tropics to make a weekly delivery. "You could turn the ships in Richmond, Va., or Norfolk, but since most of our customer base is in the Northeast, you'd spend a lot of money trucking the fruit up here," Jablon said.

"Over the years, the infrastructure has been built up," said John Brennan, president of Penn Terminals in Chester, where Banacol brings a ship once a week, loaded with 5,000 tons of bananas, some pineapples and plantains. "Not only are there a lot of refrigerated warehouses here, but also refrigerated trucks to get the fruit from the port to all the host of supermarkets and little retail shops where it is sold."

Fresh fruit accounts for 25% of all cargo going into Delaware ports.

Source: www.philly.com

Publication date: 3/16/2012


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