Simply put, if supply chains stopped tomorrow what would it take to build your own banana split?

It’s so easy to take Supply Chain Logistics for granted: We flick casually through aisles of flan, fajitas, fried chicken, fondue, flounder, and frosting. It’s not just food: 97 percent of American clothing is made abroad– China, India, Vietnam, Bangladesh– and more places that are difficult to locate on a map, let alone personally source a silk sundress or even a super simple sundae from. 

To help visualize the complexity and pure whipped cream wonder that is the Supply Chain, we’ve looked at the logistics of serving up a simple banana split.

Bananas

To get your banana base, you would have to travel to Honduras, Ecuador, or Guatemala. It’s the number one American grocery item, but that doesn’t mean its origins aren’t exotic. This should be one of the easiest items in our sundae, since it doesn’t require any assembly, and it comes with its own packaging.

MIT Professor of Logistics Yossi Sheffi summarizes the process:

When a banana cluster reaches the right stage of development — still green, but approaching ripeness — farm laborers cut it down and move it along a metal track to a sorting station. Bunches are then manually inspected for appearance and sorted by size. 

Workers load the one-ton pallets of bananas onto trucks to haul them east to the Costa Rican port of Puerto Moín, in Limón, on the Caribbean Sea. Massive cranes then load hundreds of containers onto vessels bound for New Orleans.

At the port in New Orleans, the banana containers are unloaded from the ship and transported by rail and truck to refrigerated distribution centers owned by Chiquita or a retailer. At the distribution center, workers stack pallets of fruit in sealed ripening rooms. 

It requires workers, infrastructure, tools, other inputs, and organizations to manage the operations — be it growing, harvesting, loading, transporting, unloading, cooling, ripening, storing, delivery, and more. And all this just for a simple product requiring no assembly.

For brevity sake, we’ll take a less nuanced look at the rest of our banana split, but it’s worth recognizing that each of the following items are even more complex than ripe fruit.

Ice Cream

For this udderly delicious part of our sundae, we’re headed to a dairy farm for ice cream– likely in California, where most American ice cream originates. Dairy cows are milked, then the milk is pasteurized and then homogenized, and then churned in massive vats before the freezing process. But we’ll need to head to Brazil to get the sugar to sweeten it.

For a very quick look at how the ice cream gets made check out this fun video from Ben & Jerry’s!

Chocolate

Let’s get tropical! Hawaii supplies most cocoa beans for chocolate. “It takes 400 cocoa beans to make one pound of chocolate,” according to the National Confectioners Association. (That’s a wee bit more than your average bag of chocolate chips.)

Nuts

Made in America: 99 percent of US nuts are homegrown. We’ll likely need to travel to the American South for our peanut-topper. This is a pretty shelf-stable food, but some shipping and logistics concerns include–

Risk factors and loss prevention according to the Transport Information Service:

  • Temperature
  • Odor
  • Humidity/Moisture
  • Contamination
  • Ventilation
  • Mechanical influences
  • Biotic activity
  • Toxicity / Hazards to health
  • Gases
  • Shrinkage/Shortage
  • Self-heating / Spontaneous combustion
  • Insect infestation / Diseases

Cherries

Life may be a bowl of cherries, but shipping them is the pits: Washington State University outlines just a few of the shipping logistics around cherries, “Sweet cherries should be cooled to below 5oC by 4 hours after harvest and low temperatures maintained throughout packing, storage, and transport. Room cooling, forced-air cooling, and hydro-cooling are all used to cool sweet cherry fruit.”

Sprinkles

Phew, if you’ve come this far with your sundae, then you deserve some sprinkles! We’ve got our Brazilian sugar from the ice cream but we’ll need a whole rainbow of dyes. For this exotic component we found out that, “The same colorants that are in your blue jeans may also be in your M&Ms,” according to Scientific American. We’ll source the needed dye out of India, our last stop on our whirlwind world dessert tour.

We’re about to ice-scream just thinking about how nuts all the travel, time, machinery, labor, and people that are involved in just a simple dessert! If you’ll indulge us in one more sweet pun– We won’t slip up on our shipping logistics as we peel out to make like a banana and split!