Emil Serafino, vice president of Exp Group LLC, said the company continues to make improvements designed to benefit its customer base. “We expect to add organic bananas to our line this year,” he told The Produce News. “From our warehouse right now, we only sell full containers direct to the chains. This will give us the flexibility to sell to smaller customers that buy by the pallet. And we continue to also ripen plantain for our ethnic community costumers. In 2015, we also expect to introduce our own brand. This will give us flexibility to change country of origin when quality is poor in one.”
Exp Group, headquartered in Glen Rock, NJ, is a multinational wholesale organization formed by several companies. “Together we create the most efficient network of production, exportation and distribution of tropical fruits and vegetables of the Caribbean, South America and Central America,” the company’s website states. “Currently we have more than 40 years of operation, exporting world class fresh products to New York, Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Puerto Rico, Canada, Mexico and South America. The quality of our products is guaranteed 100 percent because we grow all our products on our own farms. We take care of all the details from growing to the final distribution to customers.”
Last year, Exp Group began increasing the number of ripening rooms available to keep bananas moving. “Fourteen banana rooms are now up and running, and we are hoping to have seven more of them by the end of the year,” Serafino said. The fruit is ripened at 90 percent humidity to ensure bananas have a good texture and don’t dry out.
Each room holds one full container of bananas. The ripening process is controlled to take into account a variety of factors such as grade of the fruit, time of the year and country of origin. Bananas can be ripened more quickly or delayed to meet market demand.
“We are happy where we are at the moment with volume,” he went on to say. Approximately 80 percent of Exp Group’s bananas come from Ecuador, marketed under the “Bonita” and “Salvatica” labels.
“I am not 100 percent happy with the quality out of Ecuador right now,” Serafino said. “They could be a little better. Just not enough sun. Bananas are like popcorn — the more sun, the more they pop. But in general they are OK.”
Bananas are moved within a 100-mile radius. “We like large fruit. The New York area likes large fruit,” Serafino commented. “We expect bananas to stay strong for the summer. Maybe a little slower sales, but pricing will continue to be good. With contract pricing, we do not see swings in pricing anymore.”