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Going bananas

19th April 2011 by Andrew Matheson, | 11 Comments

I was surprised to see a New Zealand company playing a vital role in the Philippines’ banana export business.  We do eat a lot of bananas in New Zealand.  In fact we import more of them than any other fruit, and about half of New Zealand’s bananas come from the Philippines.

But New Zealand doesn’t grow bananas commercially, so apart from importing bananas — and eating them of course — we don’t have much to do with the industry.  Or so I thought until my recent visit to the productive banana-growing lands around Davao.

The New Zealand company Tru-Test supplies most of the electronic scales to the banana industry in the Philippines, and this country is one of the top five banana-growing nations in the world.   These scales perform a vital task that is at the heart of the relationship between growers and exporters, which I saw in action in one of the many packing houses that dot the region.

Banana processing

Using electronic scales to weigh bananas destined for New Zealand

Bananas come in to the packing house by tractor-trailer units from individual and cooperative growers, and after washing and initial removal of waste the bunches are weighed.  At this point ownership transfers from the growers to the exporting company and the growers are paid by weight.  The benefit of electronic scales, of course, is that the appropriate growers can be coded into the scales at the time of weighing, and each grower’s total easily and reliably tallied up.   The packing company and the grower can both be sure that payment is fair.

Tru-Test makes some pretty impressive pieces of weighing equipment, and during my visit to Davao I attended the Philippine launch of two new models in the EziWeigh range.  With the higher-end scales data for different growers can be sent to a computer for further processing, wirelessly through Bluetooth on some models.  The scales can even link to RFID (radio frequency identification) of product.

The company has been working in the Philippines for 15 years with its local partner First Philippine Scales.  Tru-Test has its roots in the dairy industry in New Zealand, producing equipment to weigh animals for better management, as well as for electric fencing and milk processing.  Dairy products are the biggest New Zealand export to the Philippines, and bananas are the most important Philippine export to New Zealand.  It’s nice to see the two industries come together in the high-tech application of weighing technology in banana packing houses.

11 Responses to “Going bananas”

  1. Bailey Bailey says:

    Hi Ambassador,

    Thank you for gracing the event and for your thoughts on the NZ-Phils relations.

    We look forward to seeing you again soon.

    Bailey
    http://www.timbangan.ph

  2. Walter Ty Walter Ty says:

    It’s good to know that New Zealand maintains an open regime with regards to tropical fruit imports unlike Australia given that stringent quarantine standards are similar across the Tasman Strait. Send us more of your kiwi fruit.

  3. Andrew Matheson says:

    Walter

    I’m pleased to hear you’re fond of New Zealand kiwifruit. The good news is that the New Zealand kiwifruit exporting company Zespri launched both green and gold kiwifruit in the Philippine market a couple of years ago, and these delicious fruit are available from discerning retailers.

    Andrew

  4. Walter Ty Walter Ty says:

    Andrew, apologies for the late reply – I am aware of Zespri as I see their kiwifruit in well-stocked supermarkets around Metro Manila. As I reside in the Greenhills area near the shopping centre of the same name, I normally do grocery shopping both for the house & for my personal needs in Unimart in the immediate vicinity. I was kind of surprised to see kiwifruit from Italy being sold in Unimart not too long ago as it never occurred to me that the European country is into kiwifruit cultivation as well. I thought all along that N.Z., China, Chile, & California were the only places growing kiwifruit on a commercial scale. I was invited recently to the Netherlands’ Queen’s Day last 28 April by my good friend the Dutch ambassador & I was kind of surprised you didn’t show up, considering Dutch explorer Abel Tasman bestowed the name Nieuw Zeeland on Aotearoa in 1642. Schedule permitting, if you would be interested in doing lunch with me on a “getting to know you” level, I can be e-mailed at walterty@gmail.com

  5. Walter Ty Walter Ty says:

    Andrew, one other thing – I recently purchased some Whittaker chocolate bars & I am quite taken by the 70% Dark Ghana chocolate chunky. I am planning to restock on these once I consume the lot. Heavenly!

  6. Andrew Matheson says:

    Walter

    Thanks for your comments. Actually Italy is one of the top three kiwifruit-producing countries in the world, along with New Zealand and Chile. New Zealand contributes only about 30% of the internationally traded kiwifruit by volume, but 70% by value — consumers respect Zespri’s brand for quality. Zespri Gold kiwifruit are also produced in Italy and other countries under licence.

    Sadly I missed the Dutch national day hosted by Ambassador Brinks as I was hosting a New Zealand function at my residence, otherwise I certainly would have been there enjoying his hospitality.

    The links between our two countries do go back a long way, as you point out. Abel Tasman certainly paid a visit in 1642. I don’t think, though, that he gave the country its modern name. He picked ‘Staten Landt’ and it was an unknown Dutch cartographer who changed that, which I understand was done in Latin. Nova Zeelandia became Nieuw Zeeland in Dutch, and this was anglicised in the way we’re familiar with today.

    A more recent connection is the large number of Dutch people who settled in New Zealand from the mid-1940s, particularly up until the 70s. And yes, I’m sure some went from old Zeeland to New Zealand.

    Andrew

  7. Andrew Matheson says:

    Walter

    I too am delighted that Whittaker’s chocolate has been launched in the Philippines, though I’m not sure this will be good for my waistline; it is, as you say, seriously good chocolate.

    For those who don’t know what we’re talking about, check out http://www.whittakers.co.nz/.

    Andrew

  8. Walter Ty Walter Ty says:

    Andrew, thanks for the reply. The late Dutch prince consort Bernhard, the father of the current monarch Queen Beatrix, kind of encouraged his compatriots to emigrate in the late 1940′s, considering the state the Netherlands was in after the period of German Nazi occupation. It’s obvious that N.Z. was one of those recipient destinations for Dutch emigrants. Have there been news with regards to Cadbury’s N.Z. operations after the acquisition by Kraft General Foods? I fear that Cadbury’s Dunedin production facility might be sacrificed in the name of consolidation & cost-cutting, considering that Cadbury’s Australian facility in Claremont, Tasmania, is probably bigger.

  9. Walter Ty Walter Ty says:

    Andrew, I would like to say I am kind of amused by Whittaker’s 72% Dark Ghana chunky chocolate bar (not 70% as I earlier mentioned) with regards to the product name, since it’s so obvious that the West African country is a leading cocoa producer, although some individuals might take offense at the “Dark Ghana” moniker in these politically-correct times. I noted from Whittaker’s website that they produce a chocolate slab with kiwifruit pieces, something that Agile, Whittaker’s local authorised distributor, does not carry.

  10. Andrew Matheson says:

    Walter

    Cadbury’s is still going strong in Dunedin, making chocolate bars familiar in other countries as well as some iconic New Zealand products: http://www.cadbury.co.nz/About-Cadbury/Cadbury-New-Zealand.aspx

  11. Walter Ty Walter Ty says:

    Andrew, quite a few Cadbury N.Z. products like chocolate-covered kiwifruit & N.Z. fruit centres were sold in Manila supermarkets some years back, but they have sadly been superseded by Claremont, Tasmania & Malaysia-sourced Cadbury chocolates, the latter more common, as Cadbury Malaysia manufactures for ASEAN markets – production consolidation in action! A Canadian friend of mine is looking for fluoride-free Natural toothpaste from Auckland-based Red Seal – the product seem to have disappeared from retail shelves.

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