The demand for organic bananas grows every year. In Sweden - the number 1 banana consumer in the world - 60% of the bananas are organic or organic Fairtrade. In Germany, The United Kingdom, and France, the organic share is also increasing significantly. To respond to this as well as possible, the Belgian/Dominican company, Fresh Fruit, has invested heavily in a new distribution center, TR4 prevention, and its logistics chains.
Family Vermeiren on the banana plantation
“Over the past five years, the global exports of bananas has increased by 40%. This enormous growth has resulted in prices coming under pressure all over the world. This pressure is now also affecting the organic and organic Fairtrade banana market,” says Pol Vermeiren of Fresh Fruit. “We currently supply 100% organically-grown bananas to the top retailers in the UK, Germany, Scandinavia, the United States, Belgium, and France. We see continual growth in our clients’ organic and organic Fairtrade categories. Despite the difficult market, we, as a company, have again had good growth this year.”
The paper band as replacement for plastic bags
Julie Vermeiren, from Belgium, started Fresh Fruit in the Dominican Republic in 2019, after years of working in the Dutch and Dominican banana sectors. To have a truly hands-on approach, this family business is entirely managed by Belgians, who all live in the Dominican Republic. Julie’s brother, Thomas, runs the company’s banana plantations, sister, Sarah, is responsible for marketing, and mom, Veerle, takes care of the finances. Even Julie’s father, Pol, works at the company. “I have more than 40 years of experience in the fruit and banana sectors, including at Dole,” says Pol Vermeiren.
The Fresh Fruit team
“We have worked hard over the past ten years to build the company up and be able to deliver the best-quality organic bananas. We have global certification (organic EU, USDA, GlobalGAP, Grasp, Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade, Smeta, Field to Fork, Tesco Nurture). A few years ago, we even entered into the production process ourselves, which enables us to supply organic bananas year-round and to meet all our clients’ packaging needs,” says Pol. “Most of our weekly volumes are packaged to very specific requirements - a certain number of fruits, specific sizes, and special packaging.”
The new docks
New distribution center
In addition to investing in quality, the business has also focused heavily on innovation and staff training. For this reason, this year, a lot of money was spent on a new distribution center which will ensure more efficiency. “When the bananas arrive from the plantation, they will first be cooled in the vacuum tunnels to 13°C, using cold water, before they go into the containers. This significantly increases the bananas’ shelf life. As a result, we can harvest the bananas as much as a week later, which further enhances their taste. Thanks to the Dominican Republic’s location, the trip to Europe only lasts nine days, which benefits this fruit’s flavor. Bananas from Peru or Ecuador are harvested two weeks earlier, which means they do not taste as good,” continues Vermeiren.
The offices have also been renewed
Solar panels and water usage
“When it comes to packaging, we have also taken a step forward in innovation. Last year, we introduced paper bands to replace the plastic bags. We want to now take this even further and bring in biodegradable, compostable packaging. Together with our clients, we try to find the best possible packaging solutions,” says Pol. Fresh Fruit is also on the lookout for the most efficient way to be sustainable. Two thousand solar panels have been installed on the roof of the new complex. These will provide power for the entire complex while keeping its CO2 footprint as low as possible. “Also, we are currently doing trials to drastically reduce the amount of water used in the packing plants. We are trying to purify the water ourselves and then re-use it.”
The distribution center is completely cooled and insect-free
Since banana plantations in Columbia were infected by TR4 a few months ago, Fresh Fruit has taken all possible precautions to prevent the spread of this fungal disease. “For example, you are not allowed to enter the farms or the new distribution center without being thoroughly disinfected. Behind the scenes, we are actively seeking solutions in the form of either alternative banana varieties that are resistant to this disease or organic methods that could restrict or treat this fusarium,” says Vermeiren.
“This all takes a tremendous amount of work and demands a lot of dedication and passion. But, we are a family business that 100% believes organic is the future. With our move to the new offices and taking the distribution center into use, the puzzle pieces are falling nicely into place. Growing alongside our clients is the icing on the cake,” Pol concludes.