Knook #7: All Good
Updated: Dec 4, 2019
Most people eat them. Even in places that can’t grow bananas, we consume them regularly enough that they have become a year-round staple, and the fourth most popular agricultural product globally.
However, most of us don’t give much thought to the people involved in producing the commodity. But ten years ago, All Good founders, Matt Morrison, his brother Chris, and mate Simon Coley decided that people should know where their bananas came from.
All Good was founded on the basis of being good for the growers, good for the land and good for you, the consumer.
“The people producing bananas live a long way away, but we should be treating them as neighbours,” says Matt Morrison.
“We’re not really interested in just selling bananas - we want to look after marginalised growers and tell their story. We firmly believed that ethical supply would be supported by consumers once they heard the stories of the growers.”
At my request, Matt gave me a crash course in “Banana Supply Chains 101”.
A banana plant will take a year to grow, with each flower (bananas essentially being petals) growing about 30 kilograms of bananas. The banana plant is then cut down to be ready to grow back the following year. The flower is then taken to the packaging station. The flower is cut into green bunches and packed into 18 kg boxes after being cleaned and the bugs taken off.
From there the bananas are packed into a container, with the container ship taking three weeks from All Good’s co-operative in Ecuador to New Zealand, via Panama. Once the ship arrives, the shipment is checked by the Ministry of Primary Industries and fumigated, as with all tropical fruits.
The bananas are then ripened from deep green in the container using ethylene sourced from apples - essentially waking them up to the ripening process. The temperature is slowly raised over six days.
The ripened bananas are then sent out to supermarkets, where they typically have a shelf life of just four days and are sold for about $4 a kg. That’s a long journey for a product to be sold so cheaply, especially when compared to the $7-8 per kg we pay for nectarines coming from Kerikeri.
“The problem with the banana as a commodity is that we’ve been enjoying them for 50 to 60 years. Over this time, the supply chain has been perfected to maximum efficiency. For the big names in banana production, it’s meant the only way to drive down prices is to cut wages for the growers,” says Matt.
“Banana growing is a tough business, and often the laborers are indentured. Most growers live on-site with their families, so while the father may be paid, his family end up working on the plantation without income.
“In addition to that, they live in a cocktail of chemicals - both from aerial sprayers, which just blanket everything, and from packing houses. I was in Ecuador visiting some growers when All Good was just getting started and our vehicle got aerial sprayed - we couldn’t get the chemicals off the windscreen so that gives you an idea of how bad that would be on your skin.”
The All Good cooperative doesn’t use any of the hazardous agro-chemicals listed in the dreaded 'dirty dozen' and Fairtrade standards ban the use of over 120 chemicals commonly sprayed on fruit. A far cry from the other multinational banana producers.
“Ironically these sprays are not necessary. Fairtrade yields are just as good without using 95% of the chemicals,” Matt says.
“The great thing is that our Fairtrade standards on the co-operative that we source the bananas from have had a huge impact on the conventional farms in the area - the circulation of workers has resulted in growers on conventional farms asking for basic needs such as gloves.
“Fairtrade standards improve the whole industry. It’s true of coffee as well.
“And the typical consumer isn’t aware of some of the horrific conditions of the growers - once they understand the tradeoff, they’re normally happy to pay more for the same product but one that pays the grower a fair wage.”
Matt and All Good were at the cutting edge of the Fairtrade movement, especially in terms of considering other products where the producers are being taken advantage of. I asked Matt how the Fairtrade banana story was received here in the early days. “One of the hardest parts of the process was actually getting into the market here. The problem with bananas is that you can’t do it small - bananas have a short shelf life and you have to be importing consistent shipments of forty-foot containers to keep shelf space. To maintain that supply, we’ve got four to five containers of bananas on the water at any one time,” Matt says.
“On top of that, we had to convince consumers to pay more for their bananas.
“We had to throw everything at it. As is pretty common, we had some challenges around working capital because our revenue flow was delayed by two months while the bananas were making their way to New Zealand.
“We needed to convince retailers to take orders from us without them seeing shipments, or being able to check quality etcetera. At the time, Fairtrade as a brand was taking off, but most of the awareness was around coffee.
“We had some amazing retailers in the early days, such as Moore Wilson’s, Farro Fresh, Huckleberry Farms and Commonsense Organics - they were all happy to take a chance on some guys selling bananas.”
I asked him what other challenges All Good has faced in their journey.
“Maintaining supply and logistics is tough - even though we’re fairly established, we’ll still lose shelf space if there’s a banana shortage.
“Another major challenge is copycats entering the market - the large multinationals have started selling small runs of ‘Fairtrade’ or ethical bananas. We see it for what it is - tokenism - but it does cause customer confusion around what is genuinely a Fairtrade product. From our view it’s an attempt to deceive the customer.
“We’re working hard to overcome this. We operate on the basis that we are 100% Fairtrade. We just need to grow our brand awareness and use that to communicate the difference.
“We’ve actually got a lot of traction from sampling in stores as we could meet the consumer and explain the difference. Bananas aren’t interesting on the surface but people like hearing the story about where their food comes from.”
It’s been hard work cracking the commodity market. I asked Matt if he’d give all of it another go.
Matt laughs. “Ultimately yes. Look - the first years were hard yakka but our connection with the growers has been amazing.
“We’ve seen the quality of life of the families improve. One of our growers was able to send his daughter through school and then to university as a result of working in our co-op. She was the first person in her region to go to university. Seeing that impact has been amazing.
“And we’ve had some great feedback domestically. Over 300,000 Kiwis are buying All Good bananas every month. Those sales aren’t just in a ‘green ghetto’ or the places you’d expect to be more conscious about where their food comes from - we’ve amazing sales everywhere across New Zealand.”
I ask Matt where to next.
“We’re in the process of developing new products but of course we want to keep driving ethical bananas to the point where the majority of bananas in New Zealand are Fairtrade.
“We certainly have no lack of enthusiasm to keep growing the Fairtrade message - not just for bananas, but also for coffee, chocolate, t-shirts, shoes. The process is iterative - people are converted one by one. We’re seeing that the Fairtrade movement is having enough of an effect to make the multinationals move to ‘Fairtrade’ for some of their stock.
“And all of that can only be good for the people producing the products we love.”
For more info on All Good, visit: https://allgoodorganics.co.nz/.