What makes a banana organic?
There is much more to an organic product than the little green-and-white logo. Above all, it comes down to the passionate commitment of producers and suppliers for high-quality food cultivated in an environmentally friendly way. This is true in the case of the curved yellow fruit.
Europeans eat around eight kilos of bananas per year. The banana is not only one of the world’s oldest cultivated plants, it is also one of the most important commercial products there is. But the banana’s success story is not problem-free. The fruit’s cultivation comes with a variety of environmental and social challenges, such as the use of pesticides or the working conditions on plantations. In a manner of speaking, ALDI North is one of the world’s biggest international banana traders. Since 2017, we have been selling only organic Fairtrade bananas or Rainforest Alliance-certified bananas at the stores in Denmark, Germany and Belgium. Organic bananas in particular are playing an increasingly important role at the Group.
EU organic, Rainforest Alliance and others: signposts in a jungle of labels
They come in all shapes and colours: sustainability labels. They help consumers make informed purchasing decisions and thus make many things a great deal easier. We think that this makes sense, which is why we use different labels to mark our products, depending on the product group. There are differences from country to country as well. In some countries, customers will also find special national seals on the products. What do they all have in common? Producers and suppliers who want to label their products with them usually have to go through an extensive certification process. Nonetheless, taking a close look is worth it, because that way it is possible to find out what criteria are behind the individual labels or seals.
From South and Central America to the rest of the world: how organic bananas make their way into retail
The journey that a banana makes is a long one. Whether it will be permitted to carry an EU organic or Fairtrade label is decided right at the beginning. And across all stages of the supply chain, organic and conventional goods must be kept strictly separated. It must also be possible at all times to trace where the bananas come from, which is true for all bananas and standards.
It all begins in South and Central America: whereas our organic bananas with the Fairtrade label are cultivated in Peru and elsewhere, our Rainforest Alliance-certified bananas largely come from Honduras, Ecuador and Costa Rica, where they grow in the tropical climate on stems several metres in height . It takes around three months until the fruit is ripe. There are many challenges to overcome already during the cultivation stage, such as living wages, workers’ rights, the use of pesticides to fight pests, the preservation of biodiversity and the traceability of the produce. To meet the high standards of the EU regulation on organic farming, producers are not permitted to use any chemical pesticides or fertilisers, and they have to observe optimum crop rotation.
When the harvest ends, transport begins: the bananas are prepared in the packaging station to go on their big journey and undergo a thorough quality check. The fruits are divided into clusters that consist of four to eight bananas. Once washed and furnished with the right labels and seals, they are sent off to the harbour in boxes.
Transport from South America to Europe can take up to 42 days.
Once on board refrigerated ships, the bananas arrive in their markets of destination within four to six weeks. The low temperature on the ships is key, as it prevents the fruit, which is still green, from ripening too fast. It is necessary to meet the requirements stipulated by the EU organic label during this step, too, which includes separating the organic bananas from conventionally produced produce.
Ripeners and suppliers
From green to yellow: the bananas get their characteristic colour during this step, which occurs in large ripening rooms – meticulously monitored by the ripening manager – over a period of four to eight days. Ethylene is used to induce the ripening process. It is a natural gas that even the fruits themselves produce in small quantities. Our suppliers then transport the bananas to our distribution centres. From this point on, we are responsible for the rest of the bananas’ journey.
At our distribution centres, we take another very close look. ALDI North employees and outside inspectors inspect the received goods with regard to quality.
Once the bananas arrive at the stores, our employees perform yet another check. Then – at long last – the bananas are put out on display for purchase. GLOBALG.A.P. certification ensures traceability for all fruit and vegetables. You just simply enter the GGN number on the box into the initiative’s online database.
The only thing left now is to enjoy the banana – whether still slightly green or completely yellow, depending on your preference. Here’s a tip: if you want to ripen bananas at home further, the best thing to do is put them next to a couple of apples, as they produce a lot of the ripening gas ethylene.
The bananas spend 4 to 8 days ripening in the ripening room, going from green to yellow.
Organic labels of the countries
Alongside the EU organic label, there are yet others in use. In Denmark, for instance, you will find the organic Ø label of the Danish government besides the green leaf of the European Union. It is held in high regard by the people of Denmark.
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