The day when Carnarvon’s Sweeter Banana Co-operative delivered its first banana bread orders to its first major supermarket contract, Cyclone Olwyn flattened the crop.
It was Friday, March 13, 2015. Two days later, every salvageable banana was being harvested by hand.
The co-op’s 20 growers, their families, staff and friends, worked against the elements – and the clock – to rescue as much fruit as they could.
Co-op Business Manager Doriana Mangili explained the co-op’s role in disaster recovery and the value that the co-operative has created for Carnarvon banana growers.
Doriana Mangili recalled how the co-op members worked collaboratively to rescue their crops, “They had to climb over fallen trees and pick hands of bananas off the ground. Hands weighing 35kg to 50kg, in temperatures that were in the high 30s and humidity at about 80 to 90%. We only had a small window of a few days before we lost the bananas, so we urged all the growers to pick them.”
Power had to be quickly reconnected to the packing shed and, within the week, the rescued crop was on the semi travelling down to the Perth bakery where the fruit was converted into the co-op’s signature banana bread.
“It’s the bread that my mum used to make,” said Doriana. “No chemicals, no preservatives, no artificial colours. We want to support local growers so it’s made with Western Australian eggs, flour and sour cream and of course our bananas.”
The co-operative utilises second grade bananas for the banana bread. That product, together with other value-add innovations, have seen crop wastage cut from 60% to 4% supporting the Western Australian banana Co-operatives at a time when it was needed.
But the cyclone is only part of the Carnarvon’s Sweeter Banana Co-operative story of success. Doriana stated
“It has been the long hard years of working together to achieve direct supply and direct markets and winning over customers”
This included a process of connecting with and re-educating consumers about Carnarvon’s Sweeter bananas, how they are grown and why they are smaller and sweeter. That required their co-operative to invest in building relationships with consumers through direct marketing – face to face at the Royal Show each year and in stores. “We even took the time to explain the skin markings to consumers. It has been consistent hard work that has yielded the results.”
The co-operative also invested in on the ground resources in Perth and implemented direct supply arrangements.
Carnarvon’s Sweeter Banana Co-operative was established in 1993 by six local banana growers. Today it has grown to 20 members.
It’s original purpose was to create a recognisable banana brand so Perth consumers could easily identify and purchase their banana of choice.
The group developed a branded bag to allow for easy recognition and as a protectant to the banana’s thin skin.
Finding a use for the bananas that were considered a waste product was a significant market opportunity and challenge.
Innovative market offerings have seen wastage drop from 60% to 4%. This means better returns for growers.
Investing in the supply chain and vertically integrating your organisation is essential.
To be successful in farming we needed to take ownership of the post farm gate processes sales, marketing, shelf life and account management.
Engaging with consumers to develop brand awareness and loyalty is key.
Revaluating your vision can result in new solutions
Be prepared to think outside the box. A time of significant financial stress due to environmental impacts resulted in a successful new product line.
Stay true to your values – Carnarvon Sweeter Banana Co-operative encouraged people to support local farmers by buying local bananas. When the time came to source additional ingredients for their add-on products, they too sourced local producers.