Mayra Velazquez de Leon, president of Organics Unlimited, said she couldn’t have ordered better weather for the current banana season. “Weather means everything to us,” she told The Produce News. “Weather-wise, we’ve had the best.” And she quickly added that good weather translates to a quality season for the fruit.
The company is headquartered in San Diego and has farming operations in Mexico. Velazquez de Leon’s family has been in the banana business for four generations.Her father exported the first commercially grown organic bananas to the United States in 1974. Velazquez de Leon and her husband, Manuel, founded Organics Unlimited in 2000 to continue farming operations and assume responsibility for exports.
Today the company is one of the largest suppliers growing and packing organic bananas for sale to customers in North America and Japan. According to Velazquez de Leon, most of the bananas exported come from the company’s farming operations and other organic farms in Mexico.
Favorable weather means volume from Mexico is returning to more normal levels when compared to recent production years. “Bananas like warm, humid conditions for growing,” Velazquez de Leon stated.
“During the coolest part of the winter, production is slowed because temperatures drop a bit lower at night, and the growing process is just slower. However, we have been fortunate this year to not have had any chill damage, and we are now at the height of our year-round production.”
In the past few years, Organics Unlimited has continued to add to its growing area in Mexico in order to supply customers in the U.S. with increased organic banana volume.
“The new farms are state-of-the-art facilities built to the highest standards of sustainable farming,” Velazquez de Leon said.
The majority of the company’s volume is comprised of the Cavendish banana variety. “However, we also produce organic plantains and organic red bananas for U.S. export,” she added. Organics Unlimited also works with organic banana growers in Ecuador, and Velazquez de Leon said the company is currently establishing grower connections in Peru.
“Our bananas from Mexico are harvested, packed and loaded into trucks at the farms,” Velazquez de Leon stated. “They are then trucked directly to the U.S. for distribution. The time from harvest to arrival in the U.S. is about four days, compared to weeks that it often takes for bananas to arrive in the U.S. when they are shipped in containers on ships.” The fruit crosses the border at Otay Mesa, CA, prior to arrival at the San Diego warehouse.
The company markets bananas in the U.S. under the “Organics Unlimited” label. “In addition, we have two social responsibility programs,” Velazquez de Leon said. “Some of our bananas also have the ‘GROW’ label, which carries a small surcharge that goes directly toward programs in the communities where the bananas are grown.” The program was created in 2005, and provides “educational, dental and vision support programs to those who need it the most, regardless of their employment.”
Organics Unlimited is certified through Fair-Trade International, and bananas are also marketed under the “Fair Trade” label. Funds generated through sale of Fair Trade bananas help with worker programs.
“In Japan, our bananas are marketed under the ‘BioFruit’ label,” she added.
Earlier this year, Organics Unlimited and Chiquita Brands International formalized an agreement to supply organic bananas to the U.S. under the “Chiquita Organic” label.