Datuk Tom Chow could probably talk about bananas all day. However, his interest is not so much in the fruit itself but more in how much bananas could potentially generate for the country. “Demand is very high and it is very hard to buy bananas. So the price of bananas has been increasing every year. For export, a box of about 13kg fetched about US$3.50 (RM14.58) to US$4 12 years ago. Now, one box is about US$9 to US$10. During peak seasons like Chinese New Year, it can go up to about US$13-US$15 per box. And this is only the price for the fresh fruit, not including the logistics cost, ” he says.
Chow first came to know about the banana frenzy more than 10 years ago when he worked for a company in China that was importing bananas, mainly from the Philippines. Every week, Chow would buy around 200 containers of bananas for that company alone.
Obviously, there was a very big demand from China. But China wasn’t the only one. Places like Australia, the Middle East, Japan and even our neighbour, Singapore, were hungry for bananas. Therefore Chow packed up and told his employer that instead of working for him as a buyer, he’d rather form a trading company and sell him bananas.
He returned to Malaysia late 2008 and started Agrofresh International Group Sdn Bhd. The company mainly exports Cavendish bananas under its Cavana brand. He found that local bananas weren’t ripe for the picking for the international market and Malaysian bananas cannot be exported to China due to certain government agreements. So he stuck to sourcing Cavendish bananas from the Philippines.