“Balancing speed and costs”

A store without bananas. Unthinkable! They are the largest SKU in the store and they are here to stay. Kris van Ransbeek was responsible for ensuring that this fresh tropical fruit, which cannot be stored easily, crosses the Atlantic and hits European outlets as fast, and as fresh as possible. With a dedicated team on board there is also always an opportunity for innovation.

Interview by helen Armstrong

Fruit giant Chiquita has pioneered a global supply chain for fresh produce for well over 100 years, shipping from the tropics to North America and Europe. Bananas remain the most important part of the company’s portfolio but there is more to Chiquita than just bananas. They account for just under 50% of the company’s USD 3 billion global turnover. The rest comes from fresh cut salads, which account for about half of Chiquita’s turnover in the USA (USD 1 billion); other tropical fruits such as melons and pineapples; fruit ingredients (processed and IQF fruits); convenience fruit products as well as smoothies, which it operates as a joint venture with Danone.

The company employs around 23,000 people worldwide. Within Europe the business is still 90% bananas. Just as 100 years ago, Chiquita sources them from Central and South America and transports them by ship. So what makes the supply so special and how can it be improved? The key to Chiquita’s success: speed and corporate focus on sustainability.

What attracted you to Chiquita?

“I’ve been in the Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) environment for 20 years and Chiquita is the oldest global supply chain in fresh fruit going back as far as 1899. Before anyone spoke about global supply chains Chiquita was already a global supplier of fresh produce, shipping products from Central and South  America first to the USA, and later to Europe. To make this happen, it had to have its own plantations, commission its own railway lines, build its own ports and operate a fleet of specialised banana ships. Chiquita has always been committed to the supply chain and quality products. For Chiquita, the two go hand-in-hand. The challenge is finding ways to make improvements.”

What were your responsibilities?

“I was responsible for all Chiquita supply chain activities on the European continent. This starts when the ship sails into port and includes port operations, discharge, storage, inland transportation and delivery to customers, both infrastructure and strategy.  I was also business unit manager for the European fruit ingredients business. I was based at our European headquarters and managed a team of 18 people. I didn’t get involved with the day-to-day business at the ripening centres but I did make decisions on where and when to renovate or build new ones.”

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