A sound ba­nana in­vest­ment

At­lantic Gro­cery Dis­trib­u­tors’ ba­nana ripen­ing rooms most mod­ern east of Mon­treal: com­pany CEO

The Compass - - Front page - BY AN­DREW ROBIN­SON editor@cb­n­com­pass.ca

At­lantic Gro­cery Dis­trib­u­tors is ba­nanas about ba­nanas, so to speak. An im­por­tant prod­uct to its cus­tomers across the prov­ince, the com­pany de­cided with a re­cent ex­pan­sion that the time was right to in­vest in some tech­nol­ogy to en­sure its ba­nanas are the best.

For any whole­sale com­pany in­volved in the food busi­ness, ba­nanas are an im­por­tant prod­uct.

“Ba­nanas are the world’s big­gest sell­ing pro­duce item, pe­riod,” At­lantic Gro­cery Dis­trib­u­tors pres­i­dent and CEO Dave Powell told The Com­pass dur­ing a site visit to the com­pany’s main ware­house in Bay Roberts. “More peo­ple base pro­duce buy­ing de­ci­sions in re­tail on the qual­ity of ba­nanas than any other fac­tor in any gro­cery store. So, you walk into a store, you see great ba­nanas, you’ve got the mind­set that the pro­duce is pretty nice.”

With that in mind, the com­pany de­cided to cre­ate a spe­cial­ized space in its Bay Roberts ware­house where staff can now con­trol how ba­nanas are ripened.

In busi­ness as a whole­sale dis­trib­u­tor for the food ser­vice in­dus­try for close to 30 years, the com­pany has al­ways looked to get the best out of its ba­nanas. They come from South Amer­i­can coun­tries in an un­ripened state, mak­ing them ined­i­ble. The ripen process has usu­ally been han­dled in Mon­treal, where At­lantic Gro­cery Dis­trib­u­tors’ main sup­plier of the fruit has 35 ripen­ing rooms.

Get­ting the prod­uct from there to the island has not al­ways been easy, as com­pany CEO and pres­i­dent Dave Powell de­scribes it.

“They have to be ripened, so for all those years since 1990 un­til this year, we’ve de­pended on other peo­ple to ripen our ba­nanas … and hope­fully get ba­nanas all the way from Mon­treal to New­found­land good every sin­gle time — which doesn’t hap­pen, be­cause there are de­lays on the ferry cross­ing on the gulf. There are snow­storms that stop trucks. So quite of­ten, ba­nanas were either un­ripe or not quite ripe enough, or over­ripe.”

Powell said this left the com­pany in a state of never be­ing con­sis­tently happy with the state of their ba­nanas. So,

when the com­pany de­cided a cou­ple of years ago to add a 43,000-square-foot ex­ten­sion to its Bay Roberts ware­house, the de­ci­sion was made to make space for ba­nana ripen­ing. Af­ter vis­it­ing some fa­cil­i­ties and do­ing re­search, At­lantic Gro­cery Dis­trib­u­tors de­cided to work with Ther­mal Tech out of At­lanta to set up the room. In­stal­la­tion be­gan in Jan­uary and they were fin­ished

and ready to use by the end of March. The new room re­quired a week of train­ing for staff, with some get­ting ad­di­tional train­ing in Mon­treal on the han­dling of ba­nanas in a raw, un­ripened state. Pre­vi­ously, ba­nanas in a more ripened state were shipped to Bay Roberts and the com­pany’s other ware­house in Port aux Basques.

“So, we re­ceive them in a raw state, an un­ripened state, to­tally green, and we ripen ba­nanas based on our pro­jected vol­umes,” Powell said.

The space has three rooms al­to­gether, al­low­ing the whole­saler to vary how the ba­nanas are stored de­pend­ing on what state of ripeness they’re in. Ethy­lene gas, which is pro­duced nat­u­rally by all plant life, is pumped into a room as needed, and com­bined with heat and hu­mid­ity con­trols, staff can start the ripen­ing process.

“The com­bi­na­tion of ethy­lene gas and heat ac­tu­ally be­gins to bring the ba­nanas from a green state to yel­low state,” Powell said.

Ripeness can also be held at a cer­tain level if needed. Each room can hold 21 pal­ettes. The level of con­trol is de­tailed, and if any­thing out of the or­di­nary hap­pens, a no­ti­fi­ca­tion im­me­di­ately goes to the cell phone of qual­ity as­sur­ance man­ager Bill Hunt.

“We’ve got the abil­ity to ripen slowly and the abil­ity to hold and get a few more days out of the ba­nana load,” Powell said.

Presently, At­lantic Gro­cery Dis­trib­u­tors han­dles 45,000 pounds of ba­nanas weekly, mak­ing it one of the com­pany’s top five pro­duce prod­ucts. The new room gives the com­pany flex­i­bil­ity in what it can of­fer food ser­vice clients.

“Ba­nanas are kind of the de­cid­ing fac­tor if you will quite of­ten for cus­tomers as to from whom they will buy,” Powell ex­plained. “It just gives us the com­plete range of great qual­ity pro­duce.”

“… We re­ceive them in a raw state, an un­ripened state, to­tally green, and we ripen ba­nanas based on our pro­jected vol­umes.”

Dave Powell

AN­DREW ROBIN­SON — THE COM­PASS

From the left, At­lantic Gro­cery Dis­trib­u­tors qual­ity as­sur­ance man­ager Bill Hunt and com­pany pres­i­dent and CEO Dave Powell stand in front of the new ba­nana ripen­ing rooms.

AN­DREW ROBIN­SON — THE COM­PASS

Through the con­trolled re­lease of ethy­lene gas, At­lantic Gro­cery Dis­trib­u­tors can keep ba­nanas in an ideal state for ripen­ing un­til they’re ready to be shipped else­where.

AN­DREW ROBIN­SON — THE COM­PASS

Each room can store 21 pal­ettes of ba­nanas.

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