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Local Ports Go Bananas for Bananas

Port Tampa Bay
Chiquita bananas are the first perishable product received by Port Tampa Bay in over two decades.

A shipment of Chiquita bananas arrived at Port Tampa Bay last week, making it the first perishable product received by the port in over two decades.

Tampa's port stepped out of the perishable products business in the late 20th century, partly due to low demand, partly because they didn't have a suitable storage unit for the shipment.

Well, no more. In late 2016, construction began on a new, 135,000-square-foot refrigerated warehouse. The state-of-the-art structure was completed last fall, giving way for Port Tampa Bay to get back in the fruits and vegetables game.

Wade Elliott, the port's Vice President for Marketing and Business Development, says the new warehouse allowed Port Tampa Bay to take their ability to serve their customers to another level.

"This new facility now is like night and day from where we were before - both in terms of its capacity and in terms of its efficiency," said Elliott. "It's a giant leap forward in terms of efficiency of serving the grocery and the food and beverage business."

Elliott says the combination of being in a central location, which benefits their customers, as well as their ability to store perishable products that are in high demand, makes Port Tampa Bay an ideal shipping destination.

"If you've got product coming from South America or Central America, it's a much shorter ocean voyage," said Elliott, adding that "customers can save considerable on their truck delivery costs from this region as well."


The bananas that arrived from Ecuador are just a start, according to Elliott.

"We see opportunities for other types of products, both export and import moving through the facility," said Elliott, mentioning tropical fruits from South America and Mexico. "Also, (we see) opportunities for exports of American products heading back."

That might be a bit tough, however, considering their neighboring port, Port Manatee, crowns itself the "top banana" and "pineapple king."

Although the two ports are only separated by around 20 miles, there has been an bit of an informal competition between them for years. 

But, according to Port Manatee's executive director Carlos Buqueras, the feud is behind them and they couldn't be happier for Port Tampa Bay's recent venture into the perishable products business.

"We are delighted that Tampa has been able to attract this business," said Buqueras. "We're enthused about future opportunities in fruit for both ports."

As for if they consider Port Tampa Bay's fruit-mongering a threat to their own business, Buqueras isn't concerned.

"We are not worried - there's enough fruit for everybody," said Buqueras. "I think it's an opportunity for both ports to expand their business."

Port Manatee moved nearly 8 million tons of cargo in 2017, a large amount of which were fruits and vegetables. Port Tampa Bay moved over 38 million tons. However, that number might grow in the next year as they take on the fruit industry.

Hafsa Quraishi is a WUSF Public Media digital news intern for fall 2017.
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