Banabar, the startup of former WUR student Marco Mega, was quick off the mark in 2019. COVID-19 resulted in a challenging year, but interest in its organic banana bars remains strong.
In 2018, Marco Mega completed his master's degree in Food technology in Wageningen. After his studies, he founded Banabar: "As a food technologist, I like to experiment with ingredients and textures in my kitchen.
Innovative and sustainable products
Then Lidl issued an open call for innovative and sustainable products. I was asked to develop three prototypes for a sustainable snack. I doubted whether I should participate, because I didn't even have one final concept, but my partner, Shonali Shetty, convinced me. Eventually, I proposed three recipes."
To his surprise, he made it through the first selection round. And it didn't stop there: three months after his graduation he was selected by Lidl: "It was crazy: we only had four months to find a producer, develop the brand, design an attractive packaging and produce thousands of bars. But it worked out: in June 2019 we entered the market."
The downside of banana cultivation
While experimenting, Marco fell in love with the taste of dried banana. He also gradually discovered its downside: "First of all, banana production is highly susceptible to two diseases, which is why large quantities of pesticides are used. In addition, the workers on the plantations have to deal with poor working conditions. And the farmers are squeezed out financially by the big market players. We consciously choose to use only organic ingredients. Moreover, we offer farmers an additional source of income by only using bananas that do not meet the quality requirements for export. And we use 1% of our total income to support the farmers we work with. Equally important, our brand aims to raise consumer awareness of the challenges of growing bananas. They can make a difference by choosing sustainable products that are good for the welfare of farmers and workers."
17,000 bars in one week
Lidl gave Banabar a kickstart. In one week, 17,000 Banabars flew off the racks. Promising talks followed with other retailers in the Netherlands and abroad. "The day after the lockdown in March 2020, we had a meeting planned with a large ecological retailer. We had several tastings and talks with other parties scheduled. Due to corona, the market reconsidered new developments. We used the past year to invest in the long term. We added two flavours to our portfolio, worked hard on the positioning of our brand and made good contacts with retailers in Scandinavia, Germany and Italy. There is a lot of interest from those countries. Recently, we started exporting to Switzerland."
Wageningen Campus is the place
After his studies, Marco remained loyal to Wageningen: he and his company have a place on the Wageningen Campus. "It is the perfect location for a company like ours. My ambition is for Banabar to become the best-selling organic bar. In 2022, we will introduce new products, apart from the bars. Ultimately, we want to achieve significantly less pesticide use in banana cultivation and better welfare for banana farmers and plantation workers. For that, you need good contacts and you will find them here on the campus."