Doriana Mangili, Business Manager at Sweeter Banana Co-Operative
What is Sweeter Banana all about?
Sweeter Banana is a co-operative of growers in Carnarvon who developed and grow the famous Carnarvon Sweeter Lunchbox Banana. We grow bananas on our family-run farms and operate a central packing shed that packs and markets the bananas on behalf of all the co-operative members.
Why should consumers choose WA bananas?
There are some great reasons to choose bananas grown right here in the sub-tropical Gascoyne region.
Firstly, Carnarvon Sweeter Bananas take twice as long to grow as tropical bananas. This makes them smaller and sweeter than the larger Queensland bananas and gives them a distinctive creamy banana flavour. In a blind ‘taste survey’ conducted by Curtin University, 9 out of 10 people could taste the difference between our Sweeter Bananas and the faster growing Queensland bananas and 8 out of the 10 preferred ours! Secondly, growers don’t use any pesticides, fungicides or insecticides for growing, instead of using a healthy population of bugs to control pests and protect the environment. Finally, Carnarvon Sweeter Bananas are shipped only within WA using less food miles and packed into re-useable crates instead of single-use cardboard cartons – so buying our product is great for the environment as well as your health.
You took part in the first Good Choice campaign in 2017. What benefits did you see from your participation?
With Queensland dominating banana production in Australia, it was really important for us to let WA consumers know that they could choose to buy a WA banana, not only for the qualities of the fruit itself but to help support our local industry. The Good Choice campaign as part of Buy West Eat Best program was key in alerting shoppers that they do have a choice to buy local and educating local consumers about all the reasons to choose quality WA products when shopping for groceries.
One of your key innovations has been marketing ‘lunchbox bananas’. How did you come up with this idea and how has it performed for you?
In the 1990s, Carnarvon banana growers were virtually giving away their fruit, getting less money for the bananas than it cost to produce. Up to 60% of the bananas grown were being thrown away because retailers considered them “too small” compared to the better-known Queensland banana. The bananas are also thinner skinned than tropical bananas, so they mark and bruise more easily when handled. The founding members of the co-operative got together and decided to brand the bananas and package them in a way that would differentiate our product as well as protect the bananas from marking during transit and in-store.
We realised that the smaller size of our sub-tropical banana not only results in great taste benefits but is the perfect size for kids to snack on, is easier for them to peel due to the thinner skin and fits perfectly into lunch boxes without bruising or cutting – giving us our unique brand and positioning. We packaged the bananas into lunchbox bananas branded bags to help protect them from marking and distinguish the product in-store from the tropical bananas.
The innovation was a success and once WA customers knew that the Carnarvon bananas tasted so much better, they began to seek them out. We now package 98% of our bananas into the bags for protection, and our waste has reduced by 50% to less than 5%.
What other Sweeter Bananas products should WA consumers look for when making a Good Choice?
To ensure we are making the most of our bananas, which take 18 months of careful growing to produce, we have developed a number of value-add products that can use fruit that has some skin markings from the growing process that make them less marketable as lunchbox bananas. We make a delicious banana bread which is available throughout Carnarvon and at the Manning and Kalamunda markets and we also package “smoothies bananas” which are available in Coles.
What big challenge has Sweeter Banana faced in recent years and how have you addressed it?
In 2015 Cyclone Olwyn devastated our industry and we had no bananas at all for a 15-month period. When we re-entered the market in June 2016 it was a bit like starting again, getting WA consumers used to making our bananas their first choice. We are now back on track with growing volumes and have plenty of fruit available.
Participating in the Good Choice campaign and Buy West Eat Best program has been key to resurrecting our local industry after the cyclone and supporting the livelihoods of our 25 grower members. Our ongoing membership of the program will help continue to educate consumers about the benefits of WA bananas and help our industry become even stronger for the future.