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Best of the bunch: Why Ecuadorian bananas are winning in Japan

Most of the bananas found in Japan’s supermarket shelves come from Asia understandably because of the lower costs to ship the fruit. However, some Japanese have developed a keen preference for for bananas grown in Ecuador, some 15,000 km away. What is the secret of Ecuadorean bananas and who are the people behind this coveted product?

Due to its geography, Ecuador possesses fertile conditions to grow food highly sought after around the world. And highly attuned to the ever-evolving demands of the global market, Ecuadorean fruit growers and exporters have adopted new standards regarding quality and ethical sourcing, while maintaining their leadership in terms of volume of banana exports.

In 2018 alone, the country exported more than 344 million boxes of bananas, with a significant portion destined for the EU, which recently ratified an Economic Partnership Agreement with Ecuador, and for China, where consumers have developed more cosmopolitan tastes.

Ecuadorean bananas receive careful handling.

Jorge Caicedo, CEO of Fruitsland in Guayaquil, stressed that certificates of origin are now important to his customers. “For us, importer feedback is important. We enable importers 100% traceability of our produce in order to minimize production inconsistencies and improve our export quality.”

Meanwhile, Dura-based Tropical Island, which has exported plantains to Japan since 2014, found success because of its readiness to go the extra mile for its customers.

“Our point of pride is that our products have made it to Japan, which everyone knows is a gold standard for other importers. We fly out our account manager to our warehouse, 45 minutes away from Guayaquil, to personally inspect each and every batch of produce that is bound for Japan,” President Edmundo Uribe said.

Ginafruit, the 10th-largest banana exporter in Ecuador, also values its business in Japan and the financial benefits it gives to small growers.

“Japan is a highly strategic market, as the acceptance of our bananas by a discriminating consumer base ensures that Ecuadorian produce is equated with quality. In fact, our slogan is “Exporting the hope of a country” because banana exports have given small growers financial independence and some livelihood,” Founder Alfredo Castro said. 

Sumifru, which was a part of Japanese trading giant Sumitomo, has always had a strong presence in Japan. President Mario Padilla pointed out that distance is becoming increasingly irrelevant in selling fresh produce abroad because of new available technology.

“We ensure the quality of produce crossing the Pacific by placing them in temperature-controlled containers, and packing the bananas unique to Japanese preferences,” he explained.

Because of the value of banana exports to Ecuador’s economy, the second-largest banana growing association in the country – Acorbanec – wants to form a “banana cluster,” an ecosystem made up of growers, exporters and innovation partners that will focus on improving infrastructure, logistics and the technology behind the product.

“We recognize that Japan is a stable market for Ecuador and this stability is underpinned by the decades-long relationship we have established with our Japanese partners. Our promise is to deliver consistent quality, and we are working hard to adapt to the evolving needs of our precious Japanese customers,” Acorbanec head Ricardo Salazar said.

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