Banana shortage sends retailers around the bend

Last updated 05:00 11/03/2014
Chimpanzee bananas
ROSS GIBLIN/ Fairfax NZ

MEALTIMES ASSURED: Marty the chimp tucks into a banana at Wellington Zoo watched by Malika. There is a nationwide shortage of bananas. Wellington Zoo sources its weekly 54kg of fair trade bananas from the El Guabo Association of Small Banana Producers, so its primates and bears are not affected by the shortage.

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Muesli, smoothies and pancake stacks are under threat as a shortage of bananas reaches a peak.

But fear not, the lack of our preferred potassium-rich snack will not become as severe as the Marmite apocalypse experienced in 2012. 

Supermarkets have been running out of bananas and orders are being cut back in the face of limited supplies. 

A spokeswoman for Foodstuffs New Zealand, which  owns New World, Four Square and Pak’n Save supermarkets, Antoinette Shallue, said supplies were already lower than normal because of bad weather affecting growing conditions in the Philippines.

"But when mechanical problems forced a shipment of New Zealand-bound Dole bananas to return to the Philippines a couple of weeks ago, it has meant Kiwis are sometimes struggling to find their favourite fruit on the shelf."

She said some supermarket shoppers were bulk-buying bananas, leaving fragile supplies even more depleted. 

Foodstuffs hoped supplies would return to normal by the end of the week. 

"In the meantime, we would suggest customers try some great in-season fruits, such as apples or pears."

Dole's New Zealand market representative Steve Barton said Foodstuffs supermarkets had been hit most by the shortages, as they were Dole's biggest customers. A replacement shipment of bananas arrived in Auckland on Friday but the bananas would take about a week to ripen, Barton said.

Nigel Bond, owner of the Bishopdale and South City New World stores, in Christchurch, said bananas were selling out regularly but there was no stock to refill the shelves.

The shortage had been "looming for a while", he said, and customers were  quick to notice when their fruit bowl staple ran out.

"It’s a really important category in terms of produce ... people love their bananas."

Tighter supplies were being shared around supermarkets, he said, and orders were being cut back daily. 

A spokeswoman for Countdown said supplies in the South Island should be back to normal later this week. 

She said the supermarket bought bananas from both the Philippines and Ecuador.

"We’ve been doing our best to manage stock centrally to ensure any shortages are kept to a minimum."

Prices could rise as retailers scramble to get their hands on a new shipment due to arrive tomorrow.

Bananas have been growing scarce on Wellington supermarket shelves for two weeks and were hardly to be seen at vegetable markets at the weekend.

Wellington's Countdown supermarkets had to juggle banana supplies between them to avoid major shortages, a spokeswoman said. Banana supplies were 14 per cent down compared to this time last year.

Countdown sourced bananas from both the Philippines and Ecuador, so was protected from the full extent of the shortage, the spokeswoman said.

Not so lucky was Tony Jung, a Levin market gardener who sells fruit and vegetables at the Harbourside and Lower Hutt vege markets.

Jung ran out of bananas last week, and lost 10 to 20 per cent of his trade over the weekend as a result - bananas are a staple item; they draw in customers to shop at his stall. He usually sold 40 boxes of bananas a week, 3000 bananas in all.

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"It is a big problem. All the customers want bananas," he said.

Wholesale prices rose from $1.50 to $2.50 a kilogram as supplies were running out last week, and Jung worried prices would remain high when bananas returned this week.

"It's a really short supply. If wholesale prices are lifted, then we have to lift [our retail price] up as well."

Chaffers New World in Wellington ran out of bananas at 6pm on Sunday, store manager Brent Doyle said. A fresh supply was ready by Monday morning, but Doyle was not certain when supplies would return to normal. He had not had to raise prices during the shortage.

The supermarket sold four tonnes of bananas a week, making the fruit one of their bestselling items, he said.

- Fairfax Media

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