Australian Bananas impress on the international stage

Australian Bananas impress on the international stage

Trial shipments highlight opportunities for Australian bananas in niche markets

Almost all Australian bananas are produced for the domestic market. On average, 62 tonnes per year, or less than 0.1% of production, has been exported since 2019 to markets such as Hong Kong, USA, Singapore, New Zealand and Japan¹. Banana exports are often opportunistic and/or managed by market consolidators filling temporary demand.

Fruit are typically exported as part of a mixed commodity airfreight consignment. Because the consignments often include other perishable fruit and vegetables with a lower storage temperature requirement, the bananas are at risk of being held below the recommended 13ºC and developing under-peel chilling injury².

Fruit rejected due to poor arrival quality represents food waste plus economic and reputational loss for Australian bananas. In November 2023, we tracked three Ecoganic® banana airfreight consignments to Hong Kong and Japan, documenting supply chain conditions, fruit arrival quality, shelf life and consumer preferences.

The performance of bananas exported either as single or mixed commodity consignments was compared. Real-time data loggers were included in consignments to monitor handling temperature.

(Figure 1, at top of page: Frank Sciacca with a real-time data logger and an export consignment.)

Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a non-protocol market where fresh produce is permitted entry without a phytosanitary certificate. 

Since 2019, 1 to 9 tonnes of Australian bananas have been exported each year to Hong
Kong¹ . This represents small consignments of several boxes of organic or Ecoganic® Williams Cavendish airfreighted in mixed commodity loads.  The fruit are typically pre-ripened with ethylene gas prior to airfreight to suit rapid sale by wholesalers and retailers. 

Dole and Del Monte dominate the Hong Kong banana market. Unripe green Cavendish fruit from the Philippines or Ecuador are sea-freighted to Hong Kong and then gas-ripened
in controlled environment rooms. Conventional bananas currently sell for 2-8 AUD per kg at wholesale and retail. Small quantities of imported organic bananas are available for 10-14 AUD per kg at high-end retail.

Trial consignments 1 and 2

Premium grade Ecoganic® bananas from Innisfail in north Queensland were packed into 13 kg capacity boxes and delivered to a local transport depot on the same day at about 25ºC. The fruit were road-freighted to Sydney under refrigeration arriving at 15-17ºC. Fruit were gas-ripened for 3 days to peel colour stage 3 (50% yellow). Randomly selected boxes were exported from Sydney to Hong Kong as a single commodity load within an AKE airfreight container. Other boxes were transported by road to Melbourne and air-freighted to Hong Kong as a mixed commodity pallet on a PMC that included broccolini and melons. The temperature during airfreight of the AKE and PMC consignments was 14-16ºC. The importer placed the AKE consignment into a 6ºC storage room. A data logger triggered a low temperature alarm once the fruit dropped to 10ºC, prompting transfer of some boxes to a warmer storage environment to reduce the risk of chilling injury. The PMC consignment boxes were distributed to the wholesale market almost immediately.

Fruit quality

Fruit from the AKE consignment that were removed swiftly from the 6ºC storage room ripened to full colour in about 3 days at 20ºC and did not develop chilling injury.

Figure 2. Fruit that avoided chilling temperatures

Other fruit that were stored by the importer at 6ºC for up to 4 days before release to the market sustained moderate to severe chilling injury as they ripened and had limited commercial value.

Figure 3. Under-peel chilling on bananas held too cold

Simulated export handling trials in our laboratory have established critical temperature and exposure time limits that result in chilling injury. This information has been used to develop a decision support tool which successfully predicted the chilling injury observed in this consignment.

Market acceptance

A survey of 104 Hong Kong shoppers at the Yau Ma Tei wholesale market revealed that 68% preferred the eating quality of Australian Ecoganic® bananas over the commonly available conventional Philippine fruit. On average, the Australian bananas had 21º brix compared to 19º for the Philippine fruit at an equivalent ripening stage. Samples of the Australian fruit were sold by wholesalers and a high-end supermarket for 8-13 AUD per kg. There was strong interest in the product and demand for follow-up consignments to fill a niche market segment.


Japan is a non-protocol market for bananas. However, bananas from Australia are only accepted if they arrive in an unripe green condition. On average, 37 tonnes of Australian bananas have been exported annually to Japan since 2019, either by air or seafreight¹. 

Japan has modern ripening facilities and the expertise to manage green bananas on arrival. Dole, Del Monte and Sumifru currently supply conventional and organic Cavendish bananas to Japan. The fruit are sourced from the Philippines, Mexico, Ecuador and Vietnam and are available for 3 to 6 AUD per kg.

Trial consignment 3 

Premium Ecoganic® fruit from a separate harvest near Innisfail were packed into 13 kg capacity boxes exported out of Cairns for the first time instead of being road-freighted to Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne. The fruit were dispatched from the pack shed at 24-25ºC, cooled to 14-16ºC at a local transport depot and maintained at 16-17ºC by the exporter. The fruit were packed into an AKE container and delivered to the Cairns airport where they encountered a 24-hour delay before flying direct to Tokyo Narita. The total time from harvest to arrival at the importer was 6 days. A decision support tool developed by DAF based on export simulation trial data predicted that the fruit should still arrive at peel colour stage 1 (100% green).

Fruit performance

Fruit arrived in Tokyo at colour stage 1, meeting the market access requirement and validating the decision support tool. Had the consignment travelled first to Sydney before airfreight to Japan, the decision support tool predicted a high risk of fruit developing some colour and being rejected. The fruit were gas-ripened with ethylene in a controlled temperature room as per standard procedures. Fruit attained uniform full yellow colour in about 5 days at 16-21ºC.

Market acceptance

A professional taste panel, conducted by the Japan Food Inspection Corporation, involved 18 evaluators comparing Australian imported
fruit to locally acquired fruit, which are potential competitors. The findings indicated a preference for the Australian fruit in terms of fragrance, texture, and flavour. Ripe fruit quality was excellent and
attracted positive feedback from shoppers during an in-store promotion at the high-end Yaoko supermarket in Tokyo. The fruit were sold for 4 AUD per kg with additional orders placed. This activity was supported by the Queensland Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries during a trade mission to Japan.

“Having access to a global market reduces our vulnerability to local markets and opens up opportunities. A monitoring program is crucial, especially in optimising supply of product quality, and freshness showcasing Australia’s unique products.”

Figure 4. Consumer tasting of Australian and Philippine bananas in Hong Kong

Conclusions and recommendations

This study highlighted the importance of maintaining bananas at optimal temperatures during export. Trial consignments were dispatched from the farm too warm and sometimes stored at the importer too cold, increasing the risk of quality loss and market rejection. Direct exports from North Queensland reduced the time to market, maintained fruit freshness and ensured the product met market access requirements. Consumers in Hong Kong and Japan were satisfied with Australian banana quality and were prepared to pay premium price. Retailers desired continuity of supply rather than irregular shipments. A decision support tool was used successfully to predict fruit quality based on different handling scenarios. The tool will be made available through the Better Bananas website.

Recommendations for delivering consistent premium quality bananas to export markets:

  • Access on-the-ground resources in export markets to connect and build trusted relationships with potential customers
  • Increase knowledge among supply chain partners about optimal (13ºC) banana handling temperatures
  • Regularly monitor consignment temperatures to improve practices and fruit quality outcomes
  • Airfreight small mixed commodity loads that match demand to reduce the risk of excess fruit being stored
  • Seafreight fruit at optimal temperatures if there is demand for larger volumes
  • Roll out a promotional campaign to capitalise on consumer interest, targeting high-end retailers
For further information, contact the DAF Supply Chain Innovation
team c/o

This work has been supported by the End Food Waste Cooperative Research Centre, whose activities are funded by the Australian Government’s Cooperative Research Centre Program, plus co-investment from DAF and Pacific Coast Produce. We acknowledge Angelo and Michael Russo from Marlin Blue for supplying fruit for trial consignments. We thank Gary Kwan and Junko Akutsu from Trade Investment Queensland for coordination in Hong Kong and Japan, respectively. We also thank Daiji Takashima from DAF Agribusiness Policy and Industry Development. We appreciate the logistics support from Chaise Pensini and Tina Slattery at Perfection Fresh Australia. We reserve special thanks for Frank and Dianne Sciacca from Pacific Coast Eco Bananas for their commitment to banana exports.

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Horticulture Statistics Handbook 2022/23. Hort Innovation
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Horticulture Statistics Handbook 2022/23
2. Archer, J., Nguyen, M., Macnish, A., Veivers, S. (2023). Realtime consignment monitoring: Unpacking the costs and benefits.
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