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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Thursday, Mar. 10, 2022 5 months ago

Area port peels ahead with a new customer

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SeaPort Manatee has over a billion bananas crossing its threshold each year, but that number is about to shoot up with the newly announced contract.
by: Amanda Postma Sarasota-Manatee Editor

Knock, knock. Who’s there? Banana. Banana who? Chiquita Banana. 

The globally-known brand was announced as SeaPort Manatee’s newest non-aggregate customer during a recent Port Authority meeting. The banana giant has begun cargo delivery on a bi-weekly schedule. 

“It brings the fruit closer to the customers,” Executive Director Carlos Buqueras tells Coffee Talk. 

Prior to the shipments, Chiquita was delivering bananas by truck from Port Everglades. The new partnership is expected to spare the fruit a several-hour commute on a truck — at least they don’t have to worry about stretching their legs — as well as cut back on pollution and fuel consumption. 

The announcement was made shortly after SeaPort Manatee extended its lease agreement with Del Monte, a decades-long customer, through 2026 with two extension options through 2036. The Del Monte unit has been importing fresh fruit into Port Manatee since 1989 under agreement worth more than $1 million per year.

Chiquita has already begun arriving at the port atop Del Monte vessels. The contract with Del Monte brings over 1.1 billion bananas each year. So now even more bananas will be passing through the state, which Buqueras says could make it as far north as Canada. 

Chiquita was a client the port made sure to keep a consistent level of contact with over the years. While Buqueras worked at Port Everglades from 1990-2012 he spent time on the business development side of operations. He developed a business relationship with Chiquita, which was based in Miami at the time, that he maintained when he came to what was Port Manatee before recently rebranding to SeaPort Manatee. 

“It’s a mutual, ongoing contact,” he says. Eventually, the idea was pitched and Chiquita made the move. 

Last year, SeaPort Manatee continued its record growth streak, Buqueras says, noting Chiquita will add to the rapid growth — for which the port is purchasing two additional cranes. SeaPort Manatee reported a 53.3% year-over-year increase in 20-foot-equivalent container units, with 135,660 reported during the fiscal year that ended last September.

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