The United States is the world’s largest importer of tropical fruits with a long history of corporations actively involved in their production, transport, and distribution. For instance, Dole, Del Monte, and Chiquita are household names that have actively been involved in commercializing bananas for more than 100 years, with products mostly coming from Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador, Honduras, and Panama. They are among the 10 largest importers of containerized cargo in the United States, with Dole and Chiquita importing respectively the equivalent of 211,000 and 117,000 TEUs in 2010. There is a high level of concentration of the banana trade along a few ports in the United States; the 10 largest ports accounting for 91% of the 4.7 million tons imported in 2011. Wilmington, Delaware, handling close to 1 million tons per year, is the largest banana import port in North America, but second to Antwerp, the world’s largest.
Since the banana trade is a mass-market with constant demand, it is mostly carried in small specialized and fast ships that do not require a deep draft. As evidenced on the above map, the main import ports are small niche ports in proximity to major markets. Thus, the shipping companies avoid the risk of congestion and delays that can be prevalent in large port facilities. Ports of the Delaware River (Wilmington, Philadelphia, and Chester) are called instead of New York, where the banana trade used to take place. In the 1980s, Chiquita and Dole relocated their facilities to Wilmington, which created a significant cluster of refrigerated import activities with specialized terminals, on-dock and inland refrigerated warehouses, and labor trained to handle these types of goods. A similar pattern applies on the West Coast where Hueneme and San Diego are used instead of Los Angeles and on the Gulf Coast with Gulfport, the dominant facility of the range that replaced New Orleans when United Fruits relocated its facilities.