OUTWARD OUTLOOK

Ecuador 2019 | AGRICULTURE | INTERVIEW

Reybanpac looks to focus on diversifying into organic bananas and incorporating technology into its production.

Vicente O. Wong
BIOGRAPHY
Vicente O. Wong is the second-generation executive of Favorita holding, which owns Reybanpac, the second-largest banana exporter in Ecuador. Wong has been instrumental in expanding into new markets across Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.

What are the main target markets for your company?

The most important market for us is Europe, which makes up about 33% of our total sales, followed by Russia with 27%, the Middle East, and then Asia. We have a strategy of diversification in place in order to not concentrate excessively on a single market. Reybanpac is present in four continents and the company is always looking for major clients because they allow us to be at the forefront of changes. For example, the Japanese market, although with no significant volume, is of great value to us because Japanese consumers value taste and presentation. Over our history, the company has been a pioneer in the Russian, Chinese, and Iranian markets; we have always focused on exporting products and expansion. In the beginning, we partnered with multinationals that dominated the world marketing in the 1980s, but we no longer depend on them. We are proud to say that we have autonomy in the four continents we operate in, directly reaching importers worldwide.

Is your distribution channel primarily via retailers directly?

Although our main target in Europe, Japan, and Russia are supermarkets, we are glad to work with key importers in Turkey, the Middle East, and Far East regions. Importers are important because they allow us to be present in certain markets with a greater volume. We are not present in the US because multinationals dominate the market. The Chinese market has great potential for Ecuadorian companies and moving forward, it will grow substantially.

What distinguishes the Reybanpac banana from others in the market?

Ecuador is a unique country in terms of banana production for several reasons. First, we have the best seasonal cycle of all producing countries; our produce is ready when demand in the northern hemisphere is peaking. Moreover, Ecuador is among the countries with the best type of land and climate, making its bananas stable with a long shelf life. In terms of taste, the Ecuadorian banana's long healthy life means it gets the most out of the ripening cycle, translating into better sugar levels. Equally important, Ecuador has more than 4,000 independent producers, whereas Costa Rica has around 50 and Colombia less than 20. Among Ecuadorian producers, Reybanpac differentiates itself by market diversification, generating value for clients, and having several social and environmental certifications that allow us to guarantee what we produce is in harmony and respect of the environment and social regulations. Moreover, the volume we produce as a responsible and sustainable grower has allowed us to continue growing, participate in demanding markets, and be present throughout the marketing supply chain.

How important are international certifications to develop your global exports?

International certifications are extremely important because supermarkets demand Global Gap, Rainforest, and a series of other certifications from us. Similarly, our company is permanently being audited by third parties, more precisely, our social and environmental commitments. Today, banks, supermarkets, importers, and even unions demand that we be audited on a regular basis.

How have you incorporated environmental sustainability in your production philosophy, and what is your vision on organic bananas?

Unfortunately, since 1993 Ecuador has a law that mandates that the industry not expand its production areas. This has limited Ecuador's global market share because other international markets have been growing at the same time; however, we must focus more on the issue of productivity because it is the key to reducing costs and staying competitive. Indeed, growing organic bananas is an alternative, and our strategic plan is designed to increase our organic banana production; it is a growing segment though it is still lacking in terms of volume. We believe its potential will grow in the future. We have to find other ways; the Ecuadorian banana industry must incorporate biotechnology, nanotechnology, telemetry, digitalization, and artificial intelligence to have a precision agriculture that will allow us to increase productivity and handle numerous elements at the same time.