Banana shortage sends retailers around the bend

National shortage may see prices rise

ANDREA O'NEIL
Last updated 16:35 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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Wellington's favourite fruit will be in short supply for the rest of the week as the effects of a missed Dole banana shipment continue to be felt around the country.

Prices could also 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.

A Dole ship carrying 9.7 million Philippine bananas failed to arrive in New Zealand on February 22 after suffering a mechanical problem and turning back to its home port. Shortages have been reported around the country since.

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.

Mr 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.

"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 Mr 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 ran out of bananas at 6pm on Sunday, store manager Brent Doyle said. A fresh supply was ready by Monday morning, but Mr 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.

Dole's New Zealand market representative Steve Barton said Foodstuffs supermarkets - New World, Pak 'n Save and Four Square - 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, Mr Barton said.

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