Innovation strong at Chiquita Fruit Solutions

by Monica Watrous
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Innovation remains ripe at Chiquita Fruit Solutions, a division of Charlotte, N.C.-based Chiquita Brands International, Inc.

An industry leader in banana ingredients, Chiquita Fruit Solutions began more than 50 years ago as a waste management stream for bananas that lacked retail-ready appeal. The division specializes in producing fruit purees, concentrates, essences and frozen and dehydrated products for use in beverage, baking, confectionery and baby food.

With more than 250 tropical-fruit ingredient products available, the business continues to uncover new applications and capabilities for fruit. A recent development is a ready-to-eat snack product for retail. Crunchy banana, pineapple and mango chips are produced with patent-pending technology that involves no added sugar, oil or preservatives.

“With dried banana chips, probably some of the larger players right now tend to be sugar-infused and fried in a type of oil,” said Maurice Moragne, general manager of Chiquita Fruit Solutions. “From a nutrition and health perspective, we were challenged to do it right.”

Using an air-crisping process that removes moisture from the fruit, the company commercialized production of the chips in 2011.

“If it’s banana fruit chips, it has an ingredient list that simply says ‘banana,’” Mr. Moragne said. “If it’s pineapple fruit chips, it says ‘pineapple.’ Nothing else.”

Chiquita is currently testing the fruit chips in select retailers and convenience stores.

“Our plans are to expand that product availability on the industrial side by working with large baking and snack companies for it to be included into items like cereals, ice cream toppers, salad toppers,” Mr. Moragne said. “We see a broad range of applications. It provides real advantages, we believe, over freeze-dried, sugar-infused and even sun-dried.”

Another recent innovation recalls the division’s origins in waste management.

“In our manufacturing facility where we make banana puree, we can’t use the peel and some of the fibrous material left over,” Mr. Moragne said. “We have all this waste that turns into a nutrient-rich sludge that we had to, for a number of years, move offsite, and we began asking ourselves, ‘What else can we do with that?’”

The question presented an opportunity to enhance the company’s sustainability efforts. Chiquita began using the material to generate electricity in its Costa Rica plant.

“With the pressure on the world for carbon release in the environment, we see this as another way that Chiquita will contribute and take a leadership role not only in terms of the cost to deliver to consumers but the mechanism and manner in which we operate our facilities day in and day out,” Mr. Moragne said. “That’s what is great about working at Chiquita. We have a finger on the pulse, and we’re moving in the right direction.”

Sometimes moving forward means taking a step back. Early this year, Chiquita Fruit Solutions idled a plant in Ecuador in response to a decline in the European premium juice market. However, forthcoming opportunities may allow the division to resume operations at the site.

“We’re looking at how to best utilize that asset for the next changes we see coming in the food industry,” Mr. Moragne said. “Clean labels, natural products and tropical flavors are all on point. We see that in a host of third-party data, that consumers are really experimenting and adopting tropical foods and flavors.”

Consumer-based data helps drive innovation at Chiquita, Mr. Moragne said.

“We speak regularly with hundreds of consumers a month through our marketing team to see what their demands are, their concerns, needs, expectations,” he said. “The approach we have at Chiquita is to keep a foot ahead. Where are we going, how rich is the opportunity, and does it meet our expectations for quality, service, innovation and cost optimization?”
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