How the Banana Republic Made Our Supermarkets

How the Banana Republic Made Our Supermarkets

The chilled food courier service we have today is a far cry from its original roots, dating back to centuries ago when a chilled courier service meant packing ships with ice to keep food chilled for longer – this of course led to costly failures.

Transporting bananas to keep them fresh

One of the co-founders of the United Fruit Company, Lorenzo Dow Baker, had to dock into Jamaica for repairs when his boat sprang a leak on the way home to New England. Whilst he was there, he bought bananas and managed to get them home just before they spoiled; he sold them for a healthy profit and then went back for more.

They became a delicacy in Boston and New York, but it was a risky business. They were to ripe to survive the journey and often arrived spoiled. If only there was a way to keep them cool en route so they could ripen more slowly and reach a bigger market…

For a century, scientists knew that you could make a space artificially colder by compressing some gases into liquids, then letting the liquid absorb heat as it evaporated again. In 1876, French engineer Charles Tellier fitted up a ship to test this very theory. The ship, packed with meat, sailed for 105 days at sea, and arrived in Buenos Aries still fit to eat.

By 1902, there were 460 refrigerated ships sailing through the world’s seas, carrying a million tonnes of beef, bananas and other perishable goods.

The final link in the cold chain

Frederick McKinley Jones was working as a sound engineer in 1938, when his boss’s friend – who ran a trucking business – complained about the difficulties of transporting goods by lands that were spoiling before they had reached their destination. Refrigeration units were breaking because of the vibration of road travel and the ice was melting before the journey had finished. Jones invented a solution – the final link in the “cold chain”.

The cold chain has since gone on to revolutionise a number of industries. During World War Two, Jones’s portable refrigeration solution preserved drugs and blood for injured soldiers. The cold chain now helps vaccines going bad and above all, revolutionises the way food is transported.

The rise of the supermarket

In the cold chain, fish can keep for a week, fruit for months and root vegetables for up to a year; freezing food can make it last for longer still.

With the refrigeration facilities, we can now enjoy a wide range of tropical fruits and foods, such as bananas, which are helping to improve our nutrition and are in turn enabling the rise of the supermarket.

We can now grow vegetables in different countries and have them transported around the world, resulting in a more eco-friendly and efficient process.