A glut of bananas is forcing Chiquita to turn to unlikely markets for sales, but the US banana giant is also having to leave crop on the tree, depriving small, independent growers across Central America of income.

Corporate communications director Mike Mitchell told The Grocer the problem of excess fruit was hitting Chiquita's own farms. He blamed the preferential tariffs enjoyed by African and Caribbean growers exporting to the EU, which gave them a $4 per box advantage. But the return of Central American fruit to the market after hurricane damage last autumn had worsened the situation.

"As a result of this combination of factors, we have been meeting independent growers throughout Latin America to explain this difficult situation.

"Chiquita is making every effort to find alternative markets for the fruit.

"We continue to sell excess fruit in non-traditional markets like Russia and the Mediterranean even though these markets are also depressed. By taking excess fruit to these markets, Chiquita mitigates the amount of fruit that would otherwise be left behind.

"However, taking all of the excess fruit from growers is not always possible. In some cases, we are forced to pay a Good Fruit Not Shipped penalty that is spelled out by contract rather than receive all the fruit the growers produce for us."

An abundance of competing summer fruits and what Mitchell described as 'excessive' heat in Europe had also depressed demand. "July and August are traditionally the weakest time."

The surplus coincided with a rise in supermarket banana prices, up last month to 85p/kg. The fruit had been in a price war which broke out in April, cutting values to 64p/kg.

Jeroen Kroezen, CEO of Fairtrade importer Agrofair, compared the situation to the bumper banana crop of 2000/01. "At trade level there are extremely low prices, although that hasn't been seen at consumer level."