Breathable membrane lengthens banana shelf life

Chiquita Brands' ad jingle declared, "I'm a Chiquita banana, and I've come to say-bananas have to ripen in a certain way."

By early next year, Chiquita bananas will have two to four days of additional shelf life thanks to a breathable, porous film membrane "patch" that regulates the amount of oxygen that can enter the porous membrane, and the amount of carbon dioxide that exits it.

The membrane uses Landec's patented Intelimer packaging technology. Last month, Landec, and its food subsidiary Apio, reached a joint technology agreement with Cincinnati-based Chiquita.

A press release announcing the joint agreement describes key aspects of the long-term agreement. Specifically, it says, "Apio will supply Chiquita with the proprietary Intelimer technology on a worldwide basis for the ripening, conservation, and shelf-life extension of bananas in selective applications on an exclusive basis and for other applications on a nonexclusive basis. Apio will provide Chiquita with ongoing R&D, process technology support for the membranes and bags, and technical service support throughout the supply chain."

The agreement also involves Landec selling up to 500ꯠ shares of its common stock to Chiquita. "To maintain its exclusive license, Chiquita must meet minimum purchase thresholds of Intelimer-based banana packages," the release states.

Landec wouldn't divulge specifics of the membrane, but did say that it would likely be applied to rollstock for making bags that would be used within Chiquita's supply chain. According to Michael Mitchell, Chiquita's director of corporate communications, bananas will continue to be displayed at retail as they are now, so consumers won't see the bags. Mitchell wasn't certain where the bags would be used within the supply chain.

"The strategy behind it is that we're hoping to add value for our retail customers, and ultimately to consumers," says Mitchell. "If we can do that by extending the shelf life of bananas, we anticipate that any increased cost [from] this new technology would be more than recovered through higher prices for our retail customers." He was uncertain if consumers would ultimately pay more for the fruit.

"We have been evaluating the Intelimer packaging technology for bananas for two years, and based on the results, we believe this product will effectively extend the shelf life of bananas, which offers a significant benefit to our customers and consumers," notes Fernando Aquirre, Chiquita's chairman and CEO.

Mitchell notes, "We expect commercial shipments using this technology to begin in early 2005, although I can't tell you where it's going to be at this point."

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