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Ger-Nis International offering Peruvian fair trade organic bananas

by Christina DiMartino | October 04, 2010
Nissa Pierson, owner and managing director of Ger-Nis International in Brooklyn, NY, spent the week of Sept. 20 in Peru meeting with fair trade and organic producers. She told The Produce News that it's always nice to get to the source.

"We like to take the information we gain from the growers to share with our customers, which we’ll be doing at the PMA Fresh Summit in October," said Ms. Pierson. “This includes product information, of course, but it’s also about how growing these products helps growers to survive.”

Ger-Nis is heavily involved with, and a strong advocate of, fair trade produce. Ms. Pierson said that the company’s Peruvian fair trade organic produce includes mangos, avocados, bananas and ginger. It also handles organic passion fruit from Peru.

Despite all of the good things about fair trade produce, it does present some challenges for growers.

“Mangos are a good example of a product that is problematic,” said Ms. Pierson. “Mango growers in Peru are suffering because of pricing, and we’re trying to figure out some ways to help them salvage their livelihoods.” She said that there is a lot of talk about what creates pricing problems in the market, due mainly to oversupply.

“There may be too many mangos on the market, but we don’t see pricing changing at the retail level,” she said. “Mangos are the same or higher than the five-year average. We do see pricing at the importer and vendor levels going lower, however. Fair-trade produce is too high to be competitive, and the return to growers does not allow them even meager incomes. We’re trying to hit prices that will enable these people to have a future.”

Ms. Pierson said that there is also some creativity going on at the grower level. Growers are planting other crops in-between their mango trees that will help boost their income.

“Passion fruit and sweet potatoes are being produced in mango groves,” she stated. “And we’re trialing other products that offer hope. The problem is that at one time, someone convinced these people to grow mangos without giving consideration to future market changes, so they have to find ways to supplement their incomes.”

Ger-Nis is also trying to develop its ginger exports on a greater level from Peru. Ginger is grown in jungles and rainforests, and it can serve as a financially beneficial alternative to plants grown for the drug trade.

“Logistically, it’s a challenge to get these growers, who are separated by hundreds of miles, to organize and get their product to ports for export,” said Ms. Pierson. “But for us, this is exactly the sort of thing we believe that putting our efforts into will benefit the producers.”

Peruvian mangos typically start in the middle of November, but Ms. Pierson is very excited about an early variety that will start in mid-October.

“The Honey Blush mango, also called the Edward variety, is a little more delicate than other commercial mangos, but it has an incredibly good flavor,” she said. “Most people are afraid to export it because of the fear that it won’t hold up under the hot baths required to [export] it to the U.S., but we have great container time to New York that will eliminate this concern. We have high expectations for the item.”

Ger-Nis is also starting fair-trade organic bananas in mid-October, which is the company’s entry into the category. Ms. Pierson said that these are perfect for customers wanting an alternative to well-known brands and that the bananas are the most beautiful she has ever seen.

“My brother, Gustav, who runs our warehousing, and I brought his daughter, Kianna, to Peru with us,” said Ms. Pierson. “She is nine years old, and she helps me present the Fruit of the World classes to kids at the Ger-Nis Culinary Center in Brooklyn. The experience will help her in explaining fair trade to other kids.”

Ms. Pierson is also excited about the run of blueberries from Holland which the company handled for about five weeks in August and September.

“Blueberries disappeared for a while on the East Coast due to hot temperatures, and this product helped to fill the void for our customers,” she said. “The greatest thing about this program was that it opened up the possibility of our handling blueberries year round, and it is leading to the potential for us to handle other berries in the future.”