Hey you. Want to be a Banana man (or woman)? ... a Bananero?
You’d have to be crazy to want to work with bananas all day, right? Well, maybe just a little. It’s easy to see why you might become obsessed with their shape, their colour, their taste.
To find out more, let’s talk to Roy Villamor and Thanos Papageorgiou - both long time banana men ... and proud of it!
Hi Thanos and thanks for talking to us. You’ve been in the banana business for over 20 years, 14 of those with Fyffes. In fact, you’re a bit of a banana expert aren’t you! What do you love most about your job?
Thanos (laughs): Yes, I do love bananas. This amazing fruit connects the whole world in a great way. Did you know that the banana has its roots in South Asia and that then it was the Duke of Cavendish who grew the now so popular variety in his garden?
Then from England the banana took its long journey to Latin America. And today, we ship them all the way back to Europe so that we can all enjoy this golden yellow treat! I love being part of that!
Roy, you’ve been with Fyffes now for over six years and are a real “Bananero”?
Roy: You could say that I guess, I’ve been working in all important areas – from planting to harvesting right over to the packaging house operations. And just like Thanos, the people I meet love being part of the banana story and it’s thanks to their dedication that the banana has become so widely available and so popular.
Did you know that we bring 400 million bananas into Europe each month? That would not be possible without all those people – whether in the sourcing countries, in logistics or in Europe in the ripening centers. I love working with bananas every day and if I can help to improve their quality over time, then I’m a happy man.
What would you say is the most important requirement for someone doing your job?
Thanos: Quality management requires a deep and wide knowledge in many disciplines. You need to understand horticulture, fruit post-harvest physiology, microbiology, physics and chemistry. But your attitude is equally important - of respecting and loving the people you work with.
Working in agriculture, producing a natural product and delivering it to customers thousands of kilometers away is a task that you need teamwork to achieve. Colleagues, producers and customers live in many countries and continents and are coming from different cultures. Working successfully with them requires developing our own intercultural competence and constantly working on it. Learning their language for example helps to understand people’s culture and their values.
Therefore, knowledge and empathy for the people we deal with are in my eyes important requirements in order to do this job successfully.
What makes the banana so needy?
Thanos: Although the banana has a thick peel, one of the biggest quality issues we face every day is the delicate nature of that skin. If you don´t touch bananas correctly and handle them with care, the skin will show scars, which turn brown quickly and will not look that appealing to our consumers in store. We need to pay attention to the small details, whether in production, transportation or ripening in order to ensure fruit quality and have at the end a happy customer.
Roy: In Europe, we are so used to always being able to buy the same perfect banana, that we tend to forget that the banana is a natural and very fragile product which is grown in different countries under different climatic conditions. It makes a difference for our bananas if there is a period of heavy rain or just sun. Also, the change of day and night temperature has an impact.
There’s a lot involved in growing a banana and getting it to the store in great condition. The banana grows in a tropical climate and we harvest them while they are green and unripe. To survive the 2-week voyage to Europe without going over-ripe, we have to put the fruit to sleep by gently reducing the temperature to exactly 13,3 °C. Once the ship reaches port, the containers are carefully offloaded and taken to a ripening center where experienced ripeners do their best to ripen the bananas to the perfect point where the fruit taste great and looks mouth-watering. It’s a real challenge, but we’re happy to accept it as good and consistent quality takes time and is a long-term and complex process.
You are both working with bananas all day. Do you still eat them? And if so, what is your favorite dish?
Roy: Of course, I eat bananas, my whole family loves them. I have two little kids and they expect their banana dish every day – the most favorite one? French toast with bananas and chocolate spread – a real treat.
Thanos: I eat bananas every day, I need to! One part of my job is to check the quality of the bananas in different ripening stages. Is there anything missing? Are they developing the right way? Even after work I won’t stop. I eat them as a healthy and yummy snack whenever I need a break.
Thank you so much, Roy, and Thanos for your time. It was great talking to you.