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The banana business

Recently in Greece

The history of bananas in Greece dates back to 1988. Before then, the import of bananas was restricted in Greece since there was a governmental preferential law.

After the partial ban removal in 1988 import of bananas begun from ACP countries and especially from Santa Lucia (Windward Islands) and then from Somalia with packages of small boxes of 14 kgs each. Moreover, we were the exclusive shipping agent of the vessels, discharging the fruit, clearing them through the customs and forwarding it to the clients all over Greece.

Hello Dollar!

About two years later (1990) the dollar zone countries were allowed to export bananas to European countries, so the banana companies started to import bananas from South (Latin) America. Countries of origin were Panama, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and others. The boxes were larger and almost 19-20 kgs each. The discharging port was Patras which was used to ditch the vessels with lots of difficulties. The cargo was transported by reefer vessels, initially packed loosely in boxes inside the vessels’ hatches. Then they started to bring them on pallets.
Despite the fact that there were three unions of laborers and the port was big enough, we could only ditch a limited quantity per shift, and there were a lot of state-owned and bureaucratic problems. As a result, Kostas Karlos had the brilliant idea to transfer the activity to Aegion port, a small port to the direction to Athens at which the largest domestic fruit market is located. There the laborers’ union stood up for the challenge, cooperating more effectively and working in more than one shifts. So they became experts to the fruit handling, as this unique fruit is very delicate and needs special treatment.

 

Aegion glory time

This small but pretty manageable port became particularly famous for its efficiency in discharging cargoes with speed and safety. The procedures were easy to implement as this small port had no traffic and it was much more flexible in comparison to the big ports that they had time-consuming berthing, expensive port calls and a lot of different service providers that were mixing and confusing
the process. Aegion had none of these problems, and it looked ideal for discharging and controlling bananas. It was a bared port, but it was an excellent idea.

The people there trusted our vision and offered maximum freedom to operate and elaborate this idea into something tangible.

 

We mean business, we mean bananas…

The build-up started from scratch. At first, we constructed inside the port area banana-specialized cold stores, so the fruit was immediately injected from the vessel’s hatches into the cold storage. This was a game changer; Our Company invested heavily in infrastructure as the port had no warehouse or even machinery for the discharging and delivering procedures.

We initiated a business plan with heavy investments for cold stores and machinery and an intensive training ground for stevedores and middle-class executives in every aspect of the bananas procedures. Thus, the discharging process, the quality control, forwarding, and warehousing were now under constant monitoring thus adding value to the pallets. Our mission was to deliver the service and protect the interests of our corporate clients. We’ve created manuals and procedures for every single aspect of the business creating a vertically integrated service controlled fiscally from our office. Moreover, we’ve encouraged organic recruitment and that was a crucial decision; new members that learned the business from

the start and shared the corporate culture in a unique fashion. All of our procedures and executives became specialists. Over the years, the extensive customization created a string of services and that was the key factor to vertical integration.

Every single box that was discharged was searched and controlled by hand if it was green/soft or yellow to ensure that the clients received only fresh green bananas. Also, our expert employees were conducting quality and traceability control according to their certified training in Antwerp. We could re-palletize the pallets if there were ripe bananas. The Aegion port served thousands of reefer vessels of all the corporate bananas companies such as Chiquita, Bonita and Dole and became a gate for South American products. Our company grew and flourished through Aegion, we became specialists in fresh and perishables and Aegion became a center of excellence. A legendary terminal for Chiquita for almost 30 years.

 

Nea Peramos, a mirror port, a great idea

In 1994, following the invitation of our clients (the banana companies), we activated at Nea Peramos private port in the north of Greece near Kavala and Thessaloniki. Based on the same idea, our company detected the same opportunity in this North port. Ideally located close to the neighboring Balkan countries it could have played the role of a mini-hub; the reefer vessels could drop their cargo there, and distribute them primarily in Turkey and secondly in Bulgaria and Romania. The most important aspect for the vessels was the time and money saving factor since they did not have to enter the Bosporus channel to get into these markets.
Again, equal to the Aegion center, the port was small and without traffic. We constructed inside the harbor, cold stores, to keep the fruit as fresh as they were coming out of the vessel’s hatches. We made sure the quality of the service was equal to Aegion center, and the companies trusted us. The port became over the years a spot reefer terminal and served the fresh fruit markets until 2006 when its lifespan concluded.

A new trend, a new era

In 2012 something was changing in the sector. The way of transportation altered and a new trend shifted from the norm. The reefer vessels were an expensive sport, and gradually the industry was converted to containers. A reefer container for bananas was always a controversial issue, as
the fruit is exceptionally volatile to handling during the supply chain process. Once again, the corporate clients asked us to step up. So we did, by setting a new business at the port of Thessaloniki initially.

Thessaloniki saga

We introduced ourselves to Thessaloniki port in 2012, and our arrival there boomed the banana import to the port. Inside the port, we retained cold store premises and exploited the usual strategy for perishables. With vast experience and know-how, the corporate bananas companies rendered our services and up until now we are doing what we are well known for; service to maximum quality and a specialist’
treatment to reefer business. We are the only company inside the port of Thessaloniki involved with fresh fruit, and we are the biggest (in volumes) distributor of reefer con in the harbor. The new era has arrived, and we intend to be part of it.

Piraeus expansion

Since 2012 we are also providing services to Piraeus port for reefer containers of our clients. Primarily with custom forwarding and agency services and since 2017 with cold stores facilities in Aspropyrgos area, an industrial area for warehousing in Athens and Piraeus. Our company has been
updated and adapted to the container terminals needs, but we took with us the legacy of the previous generation; we are bananas, we speak bananas, we feel bananas!

To be continued…

«Since 2012 we are also providing services to Piraeus port for reefer containers of our clients. Primarily with custom forwarding and agency services and since 2017.»