The banana and the logistics

The banana and the logistics

Thursday afternoon, about 4:00 pm. Lunch was a few hours ago. The energy boost from the colourful salad, some bread and a grilled fish followed by an espresso, which was served in the chic bistro around the corner, slowly fades away and makes way for the afternoon depression. But the end of the day is not yet in sight, and so a solution must be found to keep up the next few hours and to complete the tasks still to be accomplished in a concentrated manner.

Some people may reach for the candy bar, take the cookie pack from the desk drawer or quickly get a piece of cake from the bakery next door. Maybe a cup of coffee with it, then it somehow fits in the afternoon atmosphere. Others swear by a portion of fruit or, depending on the equipment of the office kitchen, quickly make a smoothie. Fructose, vitamins, minerals and trace elements quickly give the brain a kick to perform well again.

The banana is a popular player both on the fruit plate and in the smoothie, because it does not only provide us with high-quality beneficial elements, but also creates a certain feeling of satiety. It is available in the supermarket all year round, for years now not only as conventional bananas but also from fair trade and/or organic farming. And for us it has become a normal and everyday part of our diet, just as a local apple or bread. And yet it comes to us from far away thousands of kilometres across the globe. Bananas are also grown in Europe, in Crete and Cyprus, for example. This would definitely be a shorter route to northern Europe, but these bananas do not get into the export chain. The growing regions in Asia and Africa also have more local and regional sales markets. And so we find bananas mostly from Central and South America in the fruit display. The three largest banana exporting countries are Ecuador, Guatemala and Costa Rica, which cover just over 40% of global banana exports.

Germany imports 1.3 million tonnes of bananas every year. A small part of this goes to industry for further processing, e.g. in yoghurt, ice cream, banana chips, biscuits. However, most of them are consumed directly as raw fruit. In Germany, every citizen consumes an average of 10.5 kg of bananas per year. This is the highest per capita consumption in Europe. However, very few consumers ask themselves how the banana comes to us and what its journey actually looks like.

Unfortunately, before the banana is harvested, there is a cultivation that makes the headlines with rather negative news. Since the majority of banana consumers in the northern hemisphere are now accustomed to only one variety, monocultures can be found almost everywhere in the exporting countries. Cultivation, care and harvesting are very labour-intensive, but in conventional production (unlike fair trade and organic farming) this does not automatically lead to many jobs, but above all to inhumane working conditions on the plantations, in violation of human and labour rights. High levels of pesticide use place an additional burden on plantation workers and also finds its way into groundwater, the air and the fruits themselves.

But when the bananas are harvested, the long chain of logistics steps starts, at the end of which we as consumers on the other side of the world sit and eat our freshly peeled bananas at our office table. After harvesting, the bananas are sorted by size, washed with water and a fungicide, dried, labelled with a label from one of the major international banana distributors, with whom most plantation owners have contracts, and packed in strands. This often takes place in plants that are attached to the plantations, because this enables the producer to better ensure quality. Most producers now pack their bananas in boxes with specific code labels to track the goods. With this code, the plantation, the harvest and shipping date, for example, can still be called up later at the place of arrival.

Usually a stable cardboard box lined with a plastic foil serves as packaging. Such a carton reaches its destination in Europe according to specifications with a weight of 18 kg. Due to possible weight losses, e.g. through slight evaporation from the tray, the cartons are packed with about 18.5 to 18.7 kg. Often the bananas are then stored in the cartons on pallets for about 12 to 14 hours in refrigeration chambers at a temperature of just over 13°C for pre-cooling. From there they are then transported on the road by truck or by barge across rivers to the sea, with constant cooling. Here the bananas are loaded either in refrigerated containers onto the cargo ships or on their pallets into the cargo hold of reefer ships. Only 24 hours have passed since the harvest. The great journey across the ocean begins, which lasts about two weeks.

The big traders, whose bananas are located in almost all supermarkets of the world, Chiquita, Dole and Del Monte have their own fleet of banana freighters. Others rely on the services of large logistics companies. Either way, the bananas must be transported in refrigerated containers, because a temperature below 13°C and above 18°C does not directly change the quality of the banana, but changes its appearance - and the consumer does not want to buy a banana with a skin that has turned brown by hypothermia, even though the fruit itself might be perfectly ripe. The ecological footprint of a banana - yes, even the banana has an ecological footprint! - is severely impaired by the way of transportation. The container ships run on heavy fuel oil anyway, and many days of cooling, including air circulation, consume additional energy.

Once they arrive in the destination country, the pallets then land in ripening chambers for further slow ripening. Here, too, the temperature is between 13°C and 18°C. In addition, ethylene gases and hydrocarbons are fed into the chambers with the air circulation, which stimulate the maturing process and make it controllable. From now on, the distances are shorter. Via wholesalers, the bananas ready for sale reach supermarkets, organic markets, weekly markets and fruit merchants. Where we simply take them, put them in our shopping basket and eat them for breakfast or in the office the next day.

Each German consumes an average of 10.5 kg per year, which corresponds to about one hundred bananas, and some people even eat more, one per day. Everyone can calculate how many bananas he or his family will eat in ten years or in a lifetime. You get incredible numbers. And now you know at the latest what logistical effort is behind every banana. So on your next smoothie or fruit plate, think about the journey the banana has made.