The EU is set to import a record volume of bananas this year as consumption continues to rise across the continent.
The 28 countries of the EU imported some 6.1 million tonnes of bananas in 2016, up from 5.9mt in 2015 and 5.4mt in 2014. That represents an average four per cent growth rate since 2012, and a 21 per cent increase since 2006.
That trend is set to continue with five per cent growth in imports recorded for the first quarter of 2017 versus the same period the year before, according to figures presented at the International Banana Congress by Carolina Dawson of French research centre Cirad.
The EU market is supplied by three key regions - the so-called ‘dollar’ zone of Latin American countries; the ACP (African, Caribbean and Pacific) countries; and the islands owned by European nations themselves, such as Martinique, Guadeloupe, the Canaries and so on. The dollar zone accounts for 72 per cent of banana supply to the EU (up 2.5 per cent last year), ACP is 19.9 per cent (up1.6 per cent), and the European territories 11.8 per cent, a figure which is stable.
Many of the key producer nations are increasing their exports to the EU. Leading supplier Ecuador is sending six per cent more bananas in 2017 than the 2014-2016 average, with Colombia shipping 16 per cent more and Costa Rica 13 per cent. The Ivory Coast is sending 16 per cent more, Ghana 44 per cent more, Peru 11 per cent, Guatemala 81 per cent, Honduras 157 per cent and Nicaragua a staggering 695 per cent more.
The growing interest in the EU market comes on the back of increased consumption among European consumers, with Europeans eating an average of 12kg of bananas per person per year. “There are still very interesting margins for growth in eastern Europe, where it’s only 8kg/person,” Dawson said. “And 2017 will establish a consumption record in the EU.”
Growth in banana imports is being driven by production expansion in countries such as Colombia, Panama, Guatemala, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Ghana and the Dominican Republic, she explained, as well as a 1.3kg/person increase in consumption since 2013 in the EU, and a more liberalised and competitive supply market since 2006.
But it’s not all good news, with Dawson warning of alarmingly low prices and reduced returns to suppliers. “To be able to overcome this destruction of value the product must be revalued,” she said. “That means improving environmental and social practices or else we will continue in this spiral.”