The Chiquita company has announced it will keep its banana ripening business at the state port at Gulfport, Mississippi, rather than New Orleans.
Chiquita moved cargo operations to New Orleans in October after being in Gulfport for 40 years. The banana ripening operations were expected to follow that move but have not.
“We don’t know that it will ever come here at this point,” said port President and CEO Gary LaGrange. Chiquita’s new owners have said they are more interested in just having cargo operations at the Port of New Orleans.
Still, LaGrange said negotiations are ongoing between the port, Chiquita and the state. The company also has had some issues with congestion at the Port of New Orleans.
Matt Gresham, a spokesman for the New Orleans port, said the ripening business is a “very small part” of Chiquita’s operations. He said between 5 percent to 7 percent of the bananas that are imported by Chiquita to the U.S. require ripening.
“In exchange we have received more of their export business that we did not anticipate — such as clothing, tools and machinery necessary for operating a farm and harvesting bananas,” Gresham said. Currently, Chiquita exports are running about 7 percent to 8 percent more than anticipated at the Port of New Orleans, he said.
The state and port had planned to spend $2.6 million on buying moveable structures that could be used to ripen bananas, but those units have not been purchased, Gresham said.
Chiquita announced its move to New Orleans when the company was supposed to merge with Irish fruit company Fyffes, but that plan fell through. The company in January was acquired by Brazilian companies Cutrale Group and Safra Group.
Chiquita plans to move about 60,000 20-foot containers per year. Because of the increased exports, the company is running ahead of cargo projections, Gresham said.
“Chiquita is blowing and going,” LaGrange said.
Other economic benefits have arisen with Chiquita’s presence, he said.
“On the export side, we have gotten to send back down machetes and workers’ boots that are used to harvest the crops,” LaGrange said. “That’s going to be some added containers as well that will offset those four jobs we didn’t get in the ripening rooms.”