Banana Delivery – Not In Any Way a Piece of Cake

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In Brief

The Secret Life of the City Banana, Millions of bananas arrive every week in New York City.

It takes a lot to get them from the boat to the bodega. This story is about “Behind the scene” of Supply Chain Management!! More than 20-year professional skills of “Banana King” in Banana Distribution.

Let’s see how it works and grows sustainably.

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With the change in consumer needs, businesses are compelled to adjust strategic pipelines that allow for easier access and response to demand. Today, many business models such as Food Delivery have emerged and continue to grow steadily. Aside from prepared food, fresh cooking raw materials can be ordered via on-line Apps and delivered within hours.  Honestbee, for example, provides food delivery service for leading restaurants and hotels while also delivering raw materials or consumer goods from supermarkets to the customer’s doorstep within a few hours.  Not surprisingly, such convenience reflects optimized logistics management, from ordering to the provision of goods that involves picking up and packing, arranging the transport routes to ‘collect on delivery’ and/or on-line payment.  Even though the majority of goods are available everywhere and despite easier tracking abilities through technology, yet, one business in particular has an interesting, different, story to tell.  The effort behind getting bananas to the shelf isn’t as simple as it looks.

New York City is the largest city in the United States and naturally the world’s for the size of its economy, financial market, cultural diversity as well as museum, literature, art, sports and entertainment venues. Surprisingly, it has been found that New York and Thailand has a common best-selling stock – Bananas. While the common fruit is available on every corner in Thailand, the New York market, on the other hand, has a supply chain composed of many related businesses that requires extraordinary collaborative efforts as well as management expertise!

Each week, over 40 containers of 4 million plus bananas are transported overseas from the Republic of Ecuador, a nation in the northwest of South America roughly 3,000 miles (4,800 kms) away, through the Panama Canal, across the Caribbean Sea to the Red Hook Terminal international port in Brooklyn, New York (Read more about the Panama Canal Expansion: ‘The Supply Chain Cross-Continental Pivotal Point’).  A quarter of the bananas is sold at various shops all over New York City each week.

In most countries, nighttime business operations goes unnoticed by the average consumer. Arriving in New York, bananas are set for the second stage of the journey and put through a ripening process in New Jersey and then distributed to shops and supermarket chains in the Bronx such as Safeway by transport trucks at night for sale in the morning, along with other fruits.

For bananas, nonetheless, the business is run by a man known to many as the Banana King, a local supplier of bananas named Antonio Cuneo who has long operated the business of supplying New York City with bananas sold in stores, hospitals, airports and small-sized local grocery shops.  The bananas are grown in the local Bonita, Belinda and Selvatica orchards in the Republic of Ecuador.

Transportation of bananas in 1897 was done by steam and sailboats docking at small ports along the way.  Today they are loaded in refrigerated containers and, like anything else being long hauled, the containers of bananas are subjected to radiation monitoring at the port. To many’s surprise, potassium content in bananas causes them to be slightly radioactive.  Some containers are kept in the port warehouse where they are opened for customs inspection by U.S. customs and border protection officials.  In the past, transportation of bananas was highly problematic due to possible contaminations in the banana boxes being transported or even animals that come with the fruit, be they spiders, snakes, crickets or cockroaches.

The next stop for the bananas is the warehouse for the ripening process which is located in North Bergen, New Jersey, serving the majority of banana importing companies located at Red Hook Terminal.  Upon the arrival of the trucks, warehouse staff proceed to quickly unload the bananas from the trucks using forklifts     before laying them out on pallets to get out of the heat outside that impacts the look and quality of bananas (they have been kept frozen in the refrigerated containers ever since the loading in Ecuador).   At this stage, the bananas are still dark green, the color of the Brazil’s national flag, with hard flesh which means they are not ripe.  (Bananas normally take several weeks to ripen naturally.)  Importing green bananas proves to considerably reduce transportation-based damage throughout the route.  The next stage is the ripening process.  The ripening room at the warehouse is marked by golden yellow of ripe bananas and equipped with orange-colored light to resemble the sun of South America that gives warmth to the bananas.

Banana boxes are densely packed from floor to ceiling in the room filled with ethylene – a synthetic hormone that enhances fruit ripening –and equipped with a temperature control device to monitor the temperature in the room and ensure appropriate ethylene level, moisture and temperature normally set at 12 – 18° Celsius.   It takes skill to achieve the right degree of ripeness because every factor, including timing, must be right.  Besides, ethylene is flammable.  As it happened in 1936, ethylene explosion caused a ‘banana shower’ covering a wide area of the city.  At any rate, banana ripeness monitoring is possible via a touchscreen method.  Given an increase in sales, the room temperature will be raised to speed up ripening of bananas and vice versa in case sales decrease.  If the temperature is too low, bananas will change as regards texture and color (they become gray) while too high temperature makes them soft and mushy. Thus, to ensure correct understanding of the process among the staff, a Ripeness Chart is posted in the room to specify the seven levels of ripeness whereby Level 1 means green bananas and Level 7 indicates the ripeness with creamy texture and bright yellow in color.  For general consumption, bananas should be golden yellow in color but below Level 7.

The ripening stage takes as much as four days.  Nowadays, bananas are ripened in New Jersey before being distributed to places such as mega-sized stores like Costco, restaurants, wholesale and retail stores, grocery stores along with fruit stands in different cities.  Of the many varieties of banana, the most popular variety nowadays is Cavendish banana.  In the past, they were imported from the East Coast toward the end of the 19th century.  At the time, they were in great demand and thousands were sold out within hours.

Evidently, a supply chain of seemingly simple goods can surprisingly reveal a high degree of step-by-step management and monitoring as errors in each activity can lead to waste, which means a meaningless financial loss.  Thus, supply chain management requires cooperation, collaboration, common and accurate understanding of one’s role and, more importantly, an effort to constantly upgrade the quality as well as effectiveness of each activity just like in the case of banana business in New York that has continuously thrived over a long period of time until now.

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Compiled by BLOG.SCGLogistics

Reference and picture credits: nytimes.com, foodlogistics.com, pexels.com

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