Blythewood business goes bananas

Thermal Technologies, located in Blythewood. Photos of plant by Jeanne Reynolds, additional photos used with permission.

What’s the best-selling item at retail giant Walmart? Hint: It’s not toothpaste or toilet paper.
It’s bananas.

In fact, bananas are the largest-selling fruit in the world, accounting for 10 percent of produce sales in our grocery stores. Nearly all those bananas are imported from Central and South American countries – and they have to be shipped green to get here in good shape.

That’s where Thermal Technologies comes in. Based in Blythewood since 2002, the company is the country’s largest provider of banana ripening rooms: evaporators with heating and cooling units used by wholesalers and retailers to bring bananas to the ideal ripeness and color for grocery shoppers.

“Bananas have very tight ripening parameters, between 56 and 64 degrees,” explained Jim Lentz, president and owner of the company he founded in Pennsylvania in 1987 before relocating it to Blythewood. “They arrive in cargo holds at about 57 degrees. Our evaporators introduce heat to get them to 61-62 degrees, then introduce ethylene gas, which causes ripening, before bringing them back down to 57 degrees.”

A typical ripening room holds two truckloads, or 40 pallets, of bananas, Lentz said. That’s 80,000 pounds of bananas. Thermal Technologies’ customers include nine of the country’s 10 largest retailers, plus companies in China, South Africa, Chile, Mexico, Canada and the Netherlands. Lentz said 100 million pounds of bananas are ripened every day in a room they built.

The company’s 23 employees also build systems to condition avocados and stone fruit such as nectarines and peaches. And if you’ve ever bitten into a perfectly ripe pear from a Harry & David gift basket, you’ve tasted the fruit of their labor.

Thermal Technologies will host the Blythewood Chamber of Commerce’s monthly Blythewood After Five event on Tuesday, March 19 at its plant at 130 Northpoint Court. Contact the chamber at 803-348-2236 for more information.

Categories: Blythewood, Business, Richland County