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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 July, 2004, 12:27 GMT 13:27 UK
Bananas are not the only fruit
Bananas
More than 500 varieties of banana are produced around the world
It has been the victim of endless trade wars and the occasional rude joke but now it may never taste the same again.

The banana is set for a makeover in the hope of making it as fashionable and highly prized as a Starbucks coffee.

One leading seller is testing the idea of fruit flavoured versions in an effort to make bananas more appealing.

Other concepts being tried out, to help raise the banana's profile and dispel its rather dull image, is to grow smaller, creamier and sweeter types.

US firm Chiquita International Brands, one of the world's largest banana distributors, hopes to trial fruity versions in the United States and Europe during the next year.

It has already tried out a extra sweet version in Japan with reasonable success.

Eight flavours

Chiquita is unwilling to disclose at this stage what fruit essences may be added to its bananas. However, its president and chief executive Fernando Aguirre told the Associated Press that he was excited by laboratory tests the firm was doing, in which bananas with different flavours, sizes and textures are being produced.

"I have seen about eight and tasted four or five different types," he said. "Now we need to find out from consumers if this is relevant and whether it something they would like to see and be willing to pay for."

Bananas had changed very little in the past thirty years, Aguirre admitted.

While Chiquita was attempting to make its bananas more interesting, Aguirre said, it was also hoping that consumers could be persuaded to pay more for them as Starbucks had achieved with coffee.

Premium value

"Who would have thought a few years ago before Starbucks started that we would be paying four or five bucks for a cup of coffee?", he said. "I think if someone could do that for coffee, we ought to be able to do it with bananas."

He added that any new varieties would not be genetically modified.

I have seen about eight and tasted four or five different types
Fernando Aguirre

Chiquita's radical plans are the latest, although arguably the most ambitious, in a long list of attempts by firms to reinvent popular food and drinks for a new generation.

Heinz's launch of a green coloured version of its tomato Ketchup in 2000, achieved by removing pigments and adding food colouring, was met with much scepticism.

Since then, the company has developed purple, pink and orange Ketchup brand extensions and claims to have sold more than 25m bottles of its EZ Squirt Range, which is largely marketed to children.

Coca-Cola has introduced vanilla and lemon flavoured varieties of Coke in recent years although colourless versions, Tab Clear (made by Coke) and Crystal (by Pepsi), have not been hugely successful.

100 million tonnes of bananas are cultivated every year. India is the largest single producer.


SEE ALSO:
Bananas At Wto
24 Nov 98 |  Despatches
Chiquita handed over to creditors
12 Nov 01 |  Business


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