How have your operations advanced in recent years?
MARIANELA UBILLA We are a family company, founded 35 years ago by Eduardo Ubilla, my father. From grains, we moved to pineapples and papayas and started our banana plantation 30 years ago. In the beginning, we supplied major export companies, and since my sisters and I took over in 2010, we started the export business. Most of our growth came from non-traditional markets; our main markets today are in Asia, including China, Korea, and Russia. Most of our exports are under the brand name Ecuasabor, though we also use Akebana, Kassandra, and Terravera, for our baby bananas, red bananas, and plantains. Red bananas have gained popularity, especially in China, and we export around one container per week. Three years ago, we started to develop plantain in our region Quevedo with the main aim to start exporting to the US because it likes plantains. Currently, we sell plantains to Dole; however, that contract will expire in 2018.
KLEBER SIGUENZA ROJAS We started the agriculture business 50 years ago and currently have 3,500ha of banana production over two different farms. Around 10 years ago, we decided to branch out into other business lines. We established a real estate firm to develop projects that closely follow the economic dynamics of the country. Moreover, we own Supralife, a plastic industry related to bananas and the most important in that sector. Our total production is 250,000 boxes of bananas per week, which amounts to 12.5 million boxes per year. We work with traders. A decade ago, we chose not to be involved in direct exportation. We have special partnerships and business relationships with exporting companies such as Dole. Our entire focus is to be the best producer. Around 60% of our production goes to Dole, while the remaining goes to five other importers.
What is the global competitiveness of the banana industry in Ecuador?
MU Bananas are a commodity. Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico produce bananas, and they are similar and represent important incomes for each country. However, Ecuadorian bananas are different because of their long shelf life, their sweetness, and the quality. We can bring them a long distance; in 45 days they arrive in an excellent condition, thanks to the controlled atmosphere in the containers. The difference in our brand is what we do for our importers; we listen to them. For example, most of our markets request different packaging, which entails more people during the packing process and packaging skills.
KSR The cocoa business is more competitive than the banana business because both have different kinds of competitors. In the case of cocoa, we have African countries as competitors. We do not have competition in the banana business because producers in Central America are at the same level. In Africa, labor costs are much lower. That is the reason why margins in the cocoa business hover around 5%. For the banana business, depending on competition, our production can reach 10% or 15% due to low labor costs. Notably, we meet the necessary environmental laws to protect resources. We strive to achieve these actions, and we have made significant progress in the banana sector.
What are your ambitions for the company for the coming years?
MU In the short term, we want to collaborate with Contecon in its new project to save costs for exporters. We are also considering developing our own logistic project that includes transportation and could increase and improve our competitiveness in the target markets. Our aim is to run new projects to support our current business. We also want to be well known for our portfolio diversity with the range of the Musaceae family: organic and conventional bananas, baby bananas, red bananas, and plantains.
KSR We want to improve our production regarding environmental and social sustainability. There are many ways to achieve sustainability, and one of the most important is water. To that end, we are taking numerous steps, such as protecting riverbanks, using scales to measure consumption, and building treatment plants to clean wastewater. The certification bodies closely monitor us, and we have a synergy of continuous work with them. All of our farms have global certification GAP, which is a basic standard; however, we also have more advanced certifications such as the Rain Forest Alliance, plus a commitment to WWF and farms in conjunction with Dole.