Yes, we have fair trade bananas

If you want to feel better about your fruit snack, look for the black and white sticker.

Growing up, I often rode shotgun with my father on grocery runs, which often included scouring Toronto’s supermarkets for the cheapest bananas.

Born before the Depression my father knew “the value of a dollar” and delighted in finding the best buy. We would crisscross the city in our two-tone Volkswagen van in the hope of finding a lower price on bananas, if only by a few cents a pound. 

This was in the good old days before recycling, before the hole in the ozone layer– and before fair trade bananas. At the time, little did we know that as a bargain-banana-hunting, fossil-fuel-burning, father-and-son duo we were a minor geopolitical disaster on the loose.

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Some call bananas the “perfect fruit” because they are nutritionally jam-packed. But knowing what’s good food  just in terms of nutrition these days seems as passé as the Pritikin diet of the eighties. Now the most socially conscious Canadian consumers demand to know where what they eat comes from, how it was grown and whose hands helped bring it to the table.

In Mid-February Vancouver’s Small Potatoes Urban Delivery (or SPUD) became the first grocer in Canada stock Fair Trade organic bananas,  which in addition to being grown without pesticides, ensure a better deal to banana producers, including sustainable wages for the fieldworkers.

The fruit is already a hit in Europe and Japan where sales of fair trade bananas have increased tenfold since their 1996 introduction.

Here in Canada, SPUD deals with Ecuador’s Prieto Agricultural Group, a fair trade collective of 250 banana plantations, certified by TransFair USA, a nonprofit regulatory association. This means each fruit can proudly wear the black and white Fair Trade Certified sticker. 

Wholesale, there’s a floor price on fair trade bananas as well as a premium of US$1.75 a crate, which goes towards grassroots social programs such as education, health care and housing in the banana producing countries. 

Regular bananas have a bruised background by comparison. They are the world’s fourth largest agricultural commodity in terms of trade volume,  and make up 25 percent of all fruit consumed in Canada.  Yet, Dole Foods and Chiquita, two U.S. companies, control over 50 percent of the world’s banana trade and only 12 cents on every dollar spent on bananas stay in the producing country.

Cheaper bananas means that even less money gets back to the growers in the developing world. Fair trade bananas– with their social justice flavor– appeal to people who are eager to be good global citizens not just find a good price. Many fleece-clad Vancouverites fit this bill.

According to Darren Stott, SPUD’s  marketing manager, the company expects to deliver at least 100,000 kilograms of fair trade organic bananas in 2004 to its 5,000 customers in BC’s Lower Mainland and on Vancouver Island. 

And just how much are these customers prepared to pay for the black and white sticker on their breakfast snack? The current price is $1.55 a pound. 

My father would be aghast.

Globe and Mail, Style, June 5, 2004

About mmcontentatlarge journalist | copywriter | producer/editor

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