The Eurobanan Group was founded in 1993 under the leadership of the Canary Islands’ association of co-operatives, Coplaca, which brings together 4,500 producers and represents more than 35% of the islands’ banana output. Today, the group’s shareholders include Irish multinational Total Produce and the Rey Rodríguez family; drawing on more than 100 years of experience in the fresh produce trade. Produce Business UK interviews Ramón Rey, director of international and marketing, to find out what the Spanish leader, with sales topping €380 million (£298m) in 2015, has in store for the UK market
Nowadays, Rey highlights that Eurobanan operates its own plantations capable of producing more than 200,000 tonnes of fruit a year. “We are one of the few fresh produce traders with our own crops,” he says, “as well as the most modern and cutting-edge logistics.”
Canarian flavour and proximity
Among these crops are bananas from the Canary Islands, which are consumed mainly in Spain and Portugal, and now represent one of the key product lines the group is hoping will help it to expand in markets such as the UK.
The brand Plátano de Canarias (Canary Island banana) is managed by the association of Canary Islands’ banana producer organisations, Asprocan, and can be used by its members. It’s under this label that the fruit is distributed by Eurobanan, alongside Coplaca’s own brand.
The product has been marketed since 2013 in the UK and is retailed by Walmart-owned chain Asda. One of its main marketing strengths is a reduced carbon footprint when compared with competing bananas from Latin America and the Caribbean.
Rey is particularly optimistic about the UK potential for the Canary Islands’ banana: “It has taste characteristics that you don’t find in the UK market,” he says. “The difference is derived from an almost artisan production, close to the market where the product is consumed. This means the bananas can stay on the plant for longer; acquiring more flavour and higher sugar levels.
“UK consumers can enjoy Canary Island bananas just four days after being harvested, in comparison to 24 days for fruit from the tropics.”
This shorter distance also gives the Spanish product an advantage in terms of its environmental impact over fruit that has been transported from Latin America and the Caribbean.
“Transport from these sources involves pollution levels that are 80 times higher than the transport of bananas from the Canary Islands,” Rey stresses.
Although for the time being export figures are still low, he is optimistic about the future outlook for the islands’ bananas in the UK. “Eurobanan’s bananas are being very well received by British consumers,” says Rey. “They have become the group’s main prescribers in the country.”
Banana market challenges
Nevertheless, the British market is extremely competitive and Rey recognises that difficulties exist when it comes to achieving market penetration on a larger scale. He points in particular to the low prices of competing produce from Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa.
“Bananas from these countries also enjoy Fairtrade status – a certification that Canary Island bananas don’t currently have,” notes Rey.
He also points out that UK consumers are well accustomed to the fruit from these other sources. “They are used to their visual appeal and large size, but their taste is bland due to their early harvest,” he claims.
Meanwhile, the Eurobanan group’s relationship with the UK marketplace extends to trade in exotic and tropical lines under the Isla Bonita brand. A market leader in Spain, its products are also consumed in many other parts of the world, including: China, the United Arab Emirates, the Netherlands and Portugal, among others.
“Isla Bonita is enjoying a growing presence in British homes and at the moment the products most in demand are mangoes and limes,” says Rey.
The idea is to expand the offer to include other product lines, such as avocados and Papayón – a large, elongated variety of papaya, which Rey says is enjoying success in the Italian, Dutch and French markets.
“We know the consumption of tropical fruit lines in the UK is growing cautiously, but it is a market with great potential, and loyal customers that focus on quality,” says Rey. “We offer a fruit that that is easy to eat, has great taste and high nutritional value.”
Rey also underlines the state-of-the-art logistics installed by Eurobanan, which allow its tropical lines to mature on the tree and arrive with consumers just a few hours following harvesting once they have undergone strict quality controls. “None of this goes unnoticed by consumers in the UK, and we know that it is appreciated by them,” he concludes.