It’s easy to get complacent when it comes to merchandising bananas — a top-selling item in most produce departments.
But rather than sitting back and letting the product move through its own momentum, successful retailers take advantage of the fruit’s popularity to lure customers by maintaining good-sized sets — often complemented by secondary displays — and promoting them often.
“Everyone buys bananas,” said Rob Perrottelli, assistant produce manager for Ancona’s Market, Ridgefield, Conn. “You’ll see more pounds of bananas than anything else.”
Ancona’s features bananas on ad every couple of months at prices ranging from 49 cents a pound to 3 pounds for $1, compared with a regular price of 79 cents per pound.
A low price catches the consumer’s eye, but the store typically experiences only a small sales bump.
“It’s a type of item that, even though they’re on sale, you can’t buy a lot extra because a lot of people won’t eat them when they get overripe,” Perrottelli said.
Shoppers usually buy as many as they can use in a week, he said.
Perrottelli merchandises bananas on a 4-foot table, and the store also offers some specialty bananas and organic bananas.
“More and more people are getting into organic,” he said.
There are no scales in the 158 stores that make up the Berkeley, Calif.-based Grocery Outlet chain, so the stores can’t sell bananas by the pound.
“We had to come up with a different way of selling bananas,” said Scot Olson, director of produce and floral.
The solution was the 3-pound bag, which is the No. 1-selling item in the produce department. Bananas are the No. 2 category, second only to packaged salads.
Shoppers who don’t need 3 pounds of bananas can buy singles at four for $1. The 3-pound bags are $1.99.
Stores typically display the fruit on a 6- by 3-foot end cap, which is covered with foam padding to prevent bruising.
Produce managers often use waterfall displays to get the fruit out of their back rooms, which don’t have controlled-atmosphere technology.
Olson also sets up banana tree displays, usually on the cereal aisle or close to the checkout register, to prompt incremental sales.
Many products can be cross-merchandised with bananas.
Ancona’s Market merchandises bananas with chocolate banana kits, banana cream kits, banana smoothie kits and strawberry smoothie kits, all of which are merchandised in front of the banana display, Perrottelli said.
Grocery Outlet cross-merchandises bananas with Nilla wafers and California clementines. In early December, Olson was preparing to launch a kiwifruit program by setting up a shipper display of the fruit in front of the bananas.
“That helps sell kiwis,” he said.
Suppliers offer a number of programs to support retail banana sales.
Dole Fresh Fruit introduced its 366 Ways to Go Bananas campaign Jan. 1, said Bil Goldfield, communications manager for Dole Food Co., Westlake Village, Calif.
The initiative will be supported by a 12-month multimedia marketing effort encompassing a campaign-specific microsite, traditional and digital advertising, sticker program, public relations, social media, and blogger and other third-party partnerships, he said.
Dole also will work with retailers across the country to develop in-store promotions, point-of-sale materials, sampling events and other programs.
Miami-based Banacol Marketing Corp. also will roll out a number of promotions throughout 2012, said Bill Sheridan, executive vice president.
The company likely will have loyalty card programs for consumers and display contests and sales competitions for retailers, he said.
Turbana Corp., Coral Gables, Fla., has many tools to help retailers grow their banana and plantain business, said Bianca Pastor, marketing communications coordinator.
One tool is Hispanic marketing assistance.
“Turbana is a specialist in marketing to the Hispanic community and can be a valuable partner for retailers to help capture the Hispanic market segment,” she said.
Another is the firm’s ability to offer private label products.
“Offering private-label produce can help a retailer differentiate themselves and is essentially another advertising medium,” she said.
Offering Fair Trade-certified bananas is one more way retailers can grow their business, she said.
Suppliers also have some useful merchandising suggestions.
Sheridan recommends merchandising bananas prominently in the produce department and implementing a two-color program.
“Making sure you have the right color really helps sell bananas,” he said.
“Handle bananas with the care used with fragile eggs and maintain storage temperatures between 56 and 65 (degrees),” he said. “The key to merchandising bananas is to keep a large display full of bananas in a single layer that is prominent throughout the produce department.”
Turbana recommends making sure fruit has an attractive yellow skin. To protect against handling damage, display fruit on padded shelves, avoid stacking and monitor and rearrange displays often, Pastor suggested.
The ideal placement for bananas is in high-traffic end cap areas, said Dennis Christou, vice president marketing for Del Monte Fresh Produce, Coral Gables, Fla. Use secondary displays by the checkout counters and/or cereal aisle to increase impulse purchases.
He also suggests cross-merchandising bananas with such items as strawberries, other tropical fruit, cereal, salads, chocolate dips and peanut butter.
“Smoothies are becoming a big part of healthy lifestyles, and bananas make a delicious ingredient for energy-packed smoothies,” Christou said.
Editor’s note: This piece, by Western correspondent Tom Burfield, first appeared in the February issue of Produce Retailer.