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Who is Top Banana in Sustainable Banana Business?

Tina Casey headshotWords by Tina Casey
Energy & Environment

When it comes to fresh produce, establishing brand recognition is a tricky business. Many commercially grown fruits and vegetables are indistinguishable from one company to the next. Bananas are one standout exception largely thanks to the Chiquita company's groundbreaking ad campaign in the 1960's. The company also has a jump on sustainability marketing, having worked with the Rainforest Alliance since the 1990's. Now there's a new banana vying for attention in that arena: Dole has just announced that it is selling bananas from farms in South America that are certified by the Rainforest Alliance.

Dole and the Rainforest Alliance...
Dole's South American certified farms are located in Costa Rica, Honduras and Guatemala. The farms meet the Rainforest Alliance's standards for environmental sustainability, but there is much more to the certification program than that. The Alliance uses standards developed through its work coordinating the Sustainable Agriculture Network (pdf), a coalition of local organizations that supports social equity and economic well being in addition to environmental protection.

More Sustainability Points for Dole

In the spirit of competition, Dole has stepped sustainability marketing up a notch by using the Internet to create a personal connection between consumers and farmers. Dole Organic's website enables consumers to make an e-visit to the exact farm where their banana was grown, by referencing the farm's code number on the Dole sticker.  The website provides information on the farm's certifications, along with photos and a map. It's a creative strategy that reinforces brand recognition by encouraging more consumers to take a closer look at their fruit stickers, while leveraging the company's Alliance certification. Don't be surprised if Chiquita comes up with its own extra layer of consumer engagement.

More Companies Aiming for Rainforest Certification

The Rainforest Alliance's core constituents are the communities of small farmers and local employers who have come to depend on sustainability strategies for their survival, but the organization also recognizes that industry leaders with high name recognition play a critical role in transitioning the global food supply to more sustainable practices. In addition to working with Dole and Chiquita. the Alliance is working with Kraft Coffee and Unilever, which is aiming for 100% sourcing from certified farms for its Lipton teas by 2015.  Mars, Inc. also plans to transition to sustainable cocoa.

Communication Advantages of Rainforest Certification

Communicating sustainability concepts to the general public has always been a challenge, especially in a competitive marketplace where companies only have a few seconds to catch a consumer's eye and engage their attention. Dole's solution was to focus on the engaging "farm visit" concept rather than subject consumers to a barrage of information on, say, soil conservation. Similarly, Rainforest certification offers companies a shorthand way to inform consumers. All of their sustainability policies can be summed up by the Alliance's catchy frog symbol, which is turning into a highly recognizable brand of its own.

Image: Bananas by IAN RANSLEY DESIGN + ILLUSTRATION on flickr.com.

Tina Casey headshotTina Casey

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.

Read more stories by Tina Casey