Equal Exchange was founded with the vision to create a more just food system, putting people over profit (See EE history). Since 1986, Equal Exchange has turned that vision into a reality in the coffee, tea, and chocolate industries. In 2006, Equal Exchange, Red Tomato, and Agrofair, partnered together around a commitment to bring that same change to the banana industry by introducing small-farmer-grown Fairtrade bananas to the US market.
It wasn’t easy. Bananas are essential items for retailers, so switching supply chains can represent a risk to the success of a grocery. In addition, new banana supply chains must compete against giant multinational companies with immense economies of scale, financing, and influence over food policy. Nevertheless, the three organizations knew that a shift in even a small portion of the banana market would generate a meaningful impact. Read more about the history of the banana industry here.
Despite the odds, Equal Exchange and partners found retail and distribution channels willing to take the risk and offer a small-farmer, organic, Fairtrade banana program to customers. The early years were full of challenges: steep learning curves, supply disruptions, and a lack of customer understanding of fair trade in bananas. With time and learning, the banana programs became more solid and more customers were willing to transition to an Equal Exchange banana. In 2013, Equal Exchange launched a Fairtrade avocado program with partners in Mexico. Today, though challenges remain, Equal Exchange produce reaches both coasts and the Upper Midwest at food cooperatives and natural food stores as well as through a few regional grocery chains. What once seemed like a radical vision is now a reality: US consumers have a choice to support small farmer, cooperatively traded bananas.
- 2006- 1st container of small-farmer grown bananas imported from AsoGuabo (Ecuador) to East Coast
- 2008 - Equal Exchange branding added to bananas
- 2010- First Peruvian banana partner: CEPIBO cooperative in Peru
- 2013- Launch of FT banana puree program
- 2013- Equal Exchange avocado program launched in partnership with PRAGOR cooperative
- 2017 - Added a second Peruvian banana partner - APOQ cooperative in Peru
- 2018- First shipment of Peruvian Avocados (summer program)
- 2018 - Fall launch of West coast banana program
- 2019- Added a second avocado partner in Mexico - PROFOSMI
- 2020- Added a fourth banana partner - AVACH (Peru)
Meet the team
Nicole Vitello is the President of Equal Exchange Produce and came to the role after doing almost every job from banana logistics to sales to management over the years. Nicole's work experience ranges from international development work with farmer co-ops in Senegal, West Africa to organic farming. Before coming to Equal, Nicole founded and ran Manic Organic, a local organic vegetable farm in her home state of Rhode Island. Nicole is a fan of camping, hiking, big family dinners and road trips. She is an avid reader, a fast talker and likes to get her news from the radio.
Ravdeep Jaidka is the Vice President & Sourcing Manager for the banana and avocado programs at Equal Exchange. Ravdeep started at Equal Exchange in 2015 after getting her Master’s degree in the Agriculture, Food and Environment Program at Tufts University in Boston. Outside of managing produce logistics, Ravdeep can be found generally spending time outdoors.
Brooke Werley is the Manager of Organizational Systems & Training for the Equal Exchange produce team, and like most of the team started as a Supply Chain Coordinator. Before Equal, Brooke spent many years as a farmworker on diversified vegetable farms across the U.S., freelance writing and flipping eggs in farm to table kitchens. If there's anything Brooke likes more than food and justice, it's a good story and a little bit of magic.
Emily Gove is the Organizational Development Manager for Fresh Produce at Equal Exchange. Emily grew up on a family farm, and spent many a summer picking, grading, and selling fruits and vegetables. She holds an MA in the Anthropology of Food, has been involved in various areas of the global food system, from grassroots seed banks and CSAs to upscale wineries and supper clubs. Outside of the food world, Emily enjoys doing projects with yarn, and any song played by an accordion.
Monica Foss is the Marketing & Customer Relations Manager for the banana team. She has been with Equal Exchange since August 2019, after a varied journey from journalism and marketing to catering and restaurants and onto an MSc in Food Policy from City, University of London. Sustainability of the food system is her jam, but she also enjoys traveling and trying all the delectable cuisines of the world.
Alyssa Melendez is the Avocado Category Manager at Equal Exchange. Before Equal, she completed a year of service in Hood River, Oregon working on food access and outreach programs and then went on to earn an M.S. in Agriculture, Food, and Environment (AFE) at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. She loves spending her free time cooking, gardening, hiking, playing piano/guitar, and spending time with family and friends.
Johanna Contreras Manito is the Banana Producer Relations & Food Safety Manager at Equal Exchange. Johanna is passionate about farmers' access to stable, profitable markets in order to maintain small-scale agrarian systems and sustain dignifying living conditions. She wears her multiculturality on her sleeve and everything else too!
Ryne Case is the Avocado Sales and Program Developer and started in January 2020. Before joining Equal Exchange, he's done everything from harvesting product from the fields and orchards to coordinating whole shipping containers and everything in between throughout the supply chain. While most things in Ryne's life are food related, including his gourmet plant based kitchen creations, he is always looking for new chess partners.
Eunice Jijon Jarquin is the Avocado Supply Chain Coordinator at Equal Exchange. After working on a small-scale organic farm in college, she was motivated to challenge the current food system by working with local food initiatives and seeking justice for farmworkers. She enjoys foraging, gardening, and listening to cumbias and music from her native Oaxaca.
Aimee Ott is the Administrative Associate for the produce team at Equal Exchange. They have a background in Community Health and a passion for working with typically underserved populations. Aimee is driven to support small farmers and any social justice work they can engage with. Outside of work Aimee loves to go outside, explore, and is an avid horror fan.
Kayla Nilson is a Banana Supply Chain Coordinator at Equal Exchange. After studying our food system as part of a Global Studies degree curriculum and experiencing its reality through working in grocery stores, Kayla discovered a passion for sustainable food. In her free time, you'll likely find her drinking coffee and settling into a new book or podcast.
Shelaih Rojas is a Banana Supply Chain Coordinator at Equal Exchange. She credits her past work experiences in giving her the opportunity to learn about different functions of an operation. This led to her interest in sustainable materials and sustainable supply chains. Outside of work you can find Shelaih treasure hunting in an antique barn or exploring new surroundings on her bike.
Christina Allex is an Avocado Supply Chain Coordinator at Equal Exchange. While studying Environmental Policy and Institutions at Rutgers University, she decided to commit her professional life to sustainable food systems and environmental justice. This commitment was further fueled by time spent volunteering with community food gardens in the Pacific Northwest as well as a mutual aid organization local to her hometown. Outside of her passion for produce, Christina is a self-proclaimed lover of mountains, fiction novels, and dancing with or without music.