French bananas get an upgrade

Wrapped in their blue, white and red bands, the “zero default” French bananas are the new stars in Dunkirk Port. With no black marks and smooth skin, they are the Rolls-Royce of bananas and are exactly what consumers want in a banana. Between October 2015 and the end of the year, activity in the 2,000m2 warehouse, where the bananas from Martinique and Guadeloupe transit through, has doubled.

Since 1998, the bananas from the Antilles have been imported to France every Monday, after a 9 day journey at sea. Director of Quality at the UGPBGM (Union of groups of banana producers in Guadeloupe and Martinique), Sébastian Thafournel, explains that the bananas are chosen for their calibre, “Their size must be between 18 and 22.9cm”.

Banana production in the Antilles offers 10,000 indirect employment opportunities. They have reduced phytosanitary usage by 50% since 2006, yet only 60% of bananas consumed in France come from Guadeloupe and Martinique. The rest is from Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, where health and environmental norms are less constrictive.

Philippe Ruelle, Director of the UGPBGM, says that “Price wars between the chains has been deadly for the sector. The banana, which is cheap, has been used to entice consumers. Our efforts had been little valued.” However, now, 4,000 large supermarkets all over France - Intermarché, Leclerc, Cora, Système U - have agreed to go with the idea that the French banana is a high end item, and they are displaying the bananas carefully in tidy rows on neat shelves. Unlike other bananas, the French banana is sold per piece, and not by weight. The price ends up around €2/kilo compared to €1.75/kilo before. Mr Ruellle says that “First figures show that the consumers have a higher regard for the fruit now with it’s tricolour band. There is less wastage and pricing per unit means weighing can be avoided.”

Aspects that are more important than price : Consumers look for bananas that have a good aesthetic quality. According to a study by FranceAgriMer in 2014 on consumer behaviour in fruit and vegetable purchases, the most important criteria for any fruit is that the outside of the fruit looks good. Freshness and cleanliness are the two main characteristics ahead of French (or regional) origin, followed by seasonality. Price is only 5th place. According to the same study, local products interest consumers more than organic produce. A trend was also revealed for ready cut, ready to eat fresh fruit and vegetables.

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