Fruit Transport going bananas!

And we literally mean bananas; Yellow Pallet B.V. is converting banana stems into transportation pallets to deliver a cost effective and climate-friendly solution for the transportation of refrigerated products. Yellow Pallet’s solutions cut down costs of pallets by 30% and reduce carbon emissions during transport by up to 22%.   

They achieve this by developing factories near the farmers’ location where the source of the lower cost fiber and the customers of the pallets are. In this way, cutting out the costly process of transporting wood or empty pallets to farmers from remote locations. Yellow Pallet is unique in that it uses banana-fibers as a wood-replacement application, provides an optimized factory design with customized machinery, harvesting solutions, provides supplies and 24/7 services with an output guarantee to take away the daily headache of buying expensive wooden pallets.

Yellow Pallet B.V. is based in the Netherlands and focuses its efforts on ‘the big five’ banana exporting countries (with over 80% of the global banana on pallet export market): Ecuador, Costa Rica, Colombia, the Philippines and Guatemala. Each of these countries provide the optimal location for their factories and the potential benefit for banana farmers and exporters of other refrigerated products.

The company was founded in 2012 and is currently co-owned and managed by ‘serial entrepreneur’ Hein van Opstal (MSc, MBA) and Gert Kema (MSc, PhD) of Wageningen University. Hein van Opstal provides the entrepreneurial know how and industry experience while Gert Kema is specialised in resistance of banana against fungi and provides scientific knowledge on banana plantations and a global network in the banana sector. In 2013 the team was complemented by a private impact –investor, which enables Yellow Pallet to make the initial investment for plant construction.

Dipping into the pallet market

The global pallet market size is ~7.5 Billion Euro a year. The first focus market of Yellow Pallet is to enter the 21 million pallet sized market of the ‘big five’ countries, providing pallets suited for the export of bananas, melons and pineapples, currently mainly supplied by Dole, Del Monte, Chiquita-Fyffes and Noboa.

Markets for pallets can roughly be divided into ‘pool’ pallets and ‘non-pool’ pallets. Pool pallets are rented by companies and remain property of the supplier. Due to the heavy weight of the pool-pallet, the complex management system over the large distances and the poor airflow required to keep the fruit fresh, the fruit-export companies use 99% of the time one-way “non-pool” pallets. Yellow Pallet’s factories can deliver both pool and non-pool pallets.

Sourcing strategy

Regular (pine) wood for pallets is scarce in the tropics. Banana fibers are non-seasonal, have less silicon compared to other fibers and can be obtained from the customers, who are also the end-users of the pallet. Yellow Pallet’s link with Wageningen University and Research Center (WUR) provides a better insight in the best banana plant and agronomy to be used in terms fiber capacity/ha. The fiber source is derived from a combination of a part of the waste stem from fruit plantation and the stems from the re-used idle land that is no longer fit for fruit production, in this way also contributing to re-forestation. Additionally current market developments favor the use of banana fibers over pine wood, with an observed price increase of pinewood at ~12% a year due to increased demand from China and the global bio-mass production from wood.

Currently, waste-banana stems are in certain area’s part of the fertilizer plan of plantations. By advising on managing the balance of the use of stems from idle land and from selected parts of the waste stems from fruit-plantations, Yellow Pallet supplies the knowledge on securing the sourcing of stems for the factory while protecting fertile soil conditions for future generations of bananas.

Ongoing activities 

Yellow Pallet has signed an exclusivity agreement for the application of banana fiber with the company IMAL PAL in Italy that has over 40 years of experience in pressing wood fibers and products. This strategic cooperation immediately resulted in being able to offer a pallet factory that produces pallets of banana blocks and wooden planks, reducing the cost of pallets by more than 10%. It also resulted in the option to use a test-facility in Europe, which was used to produce banana fiber blocks as sale prototypes. Furthermore, they cooperate with Hollandia Systems in The Netherlands to develop the new pallet-press and press-feeder. Hollandia and IMAL can also act as trusted parties to realize turnkey delivery of complete banana pallet factories.

“… export organizations all consider the daily management and purchasing of the current one-way wooden transport pallets as a daily nightmare, they are expensive and often of low quality.” – H. v. Opstal

In the process of selling its first factory, they are focusing their activities on Colombia and Costa Rica. The business case for these locations works best by first replacing the wooden pallet-blocks, before moving on to replacing the pallet as a whole.

Yellow Pallet intends to partner with a customer in the construction of the first factory, this to be able to support the financing of the factory, to demonstrate commitment and to continue the research and development of replacing more parts of the pallet to achieve the 30% cost- and emission-reduction benefit. They expects to start construction of its first factory by the summer of 2014, by when it also expects to complete Stage 3 of the Climate-KIC Accelerator.

In the fight against climate change

The harvesting and transport of wood and the production of a wooden pallet results in a footprint of 5.34 kg CO2/wooden pallet. The banana pallet footprint is calculated to be 22% less at 4.13 kg CO2/pallet. Locating the factory close to the plantation increases this difference even further. This significantly reduces the impact of banana export on global warming. Additionally Yellow Pallet creates jobs in (often) rural areas and combat deforestation by making use of waste materials.

By covering travel costs, Climate-KIC made it possible for Yellow Pallet to find a first investor and to support negotiations with potential customers, while keeping the investor’s and supplier’s buy-in. Furthermore the initial funding enabled development and manufacture of the first prototypes in an industrial process.

Looking toward the future

The first milestone for Yellow Pallet would be securing a customer in either Costa Rica or Colombia and together develop the first 100% banana fiber pallet factory. From there expansion into one of the other ‘big five’ countries would be the logical next step. Subsequently entry into the ‘pool’ pallet market and expansion into any other wood-replacement applications are other possibilities.


For further information, please contact:
+31 6 53571196