Small player ripe for market

Last updated 11:00 17/05/2014

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In an industry dominated by big corporates and plantation-grown fruit, New Zealand's first fair trade organic importers have carved a niche. TESS McCLURE talks to Canterbury co- founder Simon Coley about starting and selling All Good Bananas.

All Good is New Zealand's only fully fair trade banana importer.

Four years ago, the company began by importing just one container - "an experiment" - from Samoa, but has grown to import several tons of bananas every week, and supply supermarkets throughout New Zealand.

With the rest of New Zealand's banana-import business dominated by big players and plantation grown fruit, All Good is a banana- industry oddity.

Founded by entrepreneurs Chris Morrison, who set up Phoenix Organics, his brother Matt Morrison and former 42-below marketing director Simon Coley, they cultivate direct relationships with small scale producers and buy bananas grown without heavy chemical pesticides.

Bananas are susceptible to disease and fungus, and each plant will grow just one bunch of bananas before dying. Because it's labour intensive and high risk, most of the world's bananas are grown on plantations and sprayed with pesticide every 12 days.

"It's very difficult to manage that supply chain without having scale," says Christchurch born-and-bred Coley.

But he says the large-scale operations often mean bad news for banana farmers, who end up selling their wares for less than the cost of production.

The Fair Trade scheme guarantees a minimum price to growers, a premium which goes directly to community projects, and the longer term guarantee of a market. Without the scheme, Coley says small-scale growers are largely at the mercy of middlemen, who will drop prices immediately after harvest - forcing farmers to sell stock at less than the cost of production or allow crates of bananas to rot on the docks.

All Good's fair trade organic branding has been a marketing boost, as the ethical goods market continues to gain momentum in New Zealand. Studies show younger consumers are particularly driven by sustainability concerns.

Coley says ethical production has become increasingly important to New Zealand buyers.

"People are aware of the difference of having a direct relationship with the people who produce their food, and being conscious of the supply chain brings them closer.

"I think it's caught on. A lot of people see the value in understanding the provenance of their food and drink, and are prepared to pay a small premium for that," Coley says.

Increasingly, big producers have begun to self- label, tapping into growing market interest in ethical goods.

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In June last year, the Commerce Commission warned Dole it risked a Fair Trading Act breach after complaints that its "Ethical Choice" banana stickers were misleading.

Ensuring those marketing claims are lived up to, All Good is independently audited by two bodies - Fair Trade and the New-York based think tank the Ethisphere Institute. Last year the institute listed them among the world's top 100 most ethical companies.

More recently, the group have launched a range of organic drinks, again with organic ingredients sourced from small, subsistence level producers.

With around 20 fulltime equivalent staff, the company imports up 2.5 containers (each containing up to 45,000 bananas) each week, supplies supermarkets across the country, and sells their organic drinks to 700 vendors nationwide. They've also recently started supplying drinks to Australia and Britain.

- The Press

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