, We Have No (Cheap) Bananas

TUESDAY, SEPT. 30, 1997

The El Nino weather system - expected to cause the most severe climate changes this century - has already resulted in droughts, fires, flooding and hurricanes. And, next, runaway banana prices.

El Nino, which brings warm weather northward from the Equator, may cause heavy rains and overcast skies over banana plantations in Ecuador in the next six or so months. Damp weather causes black sigatoka, a fungal disease that prematurely ripens bananas and makes them difficult to ship.

An outbreak in Ecuador, which produces 20 percent of the world’s bananas, may reduce supplies and send up supermarket banana prices, currently at about $3 a pound, analysts said. That’s good for banana producers Chiquita Brands International Inc. and Dole Food Co., which don’t own plantations in Ecuador. The El Nino effect could be a profit windfall for Dole and Chiquita.

U.S. consumers may feel the bite. Bananas are the third-most popular single item in U.S. grocery stores.

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