As one of the most popular items in the produce aisle, bananas are known to practically sell themselves.
The Packer’s recently released Fresh Trends 2012 survey showed about nine out of 10 consumer respondents — regardless of age, income, geographic region, marital status or gender — are buying bananas.
But with new produce commodities threatening the banana’s shelf space, banana companies are focusing on specialties and single fingers as key growth areas for the category. They also are courting the convenience store sector of the retail community.
Consumers are responding to the efforts, according to several banana marketers.
One isn’t the loneliest number
When Del Monte Fresh Produce, Coral Gables, Fla., introduced individual bananas in plastic wrappers, the company earned a spot in the “Pantry of Shame” on the Comedy Central network’s “Daily Show” a year ago as comedian Jon Stewart suggested the wrappers were excessive packaging.
The banana giant has been laughing all the way to the cash register.
“The Del Monte single finger banana category program is a huge growth area,” said Dennis Christou, vice president marketing for Del Monte Fresh Produce, Coral Gables, Fla.
For Turbana Corp., Miami, single bananas are an increasingly popular item, according to sales manager Scott DiMartini. He said the fact that a single banana automatically meets the Food and Drug Administration’s definition of a single serving makes them an attractive alternative for health-conscious consumers who are looking for a quick snack.
“From a convenience standpoint they cater to customers who are on the go,” DiMartini said. “(They) require little maintenance at retail, which allows them to be merchandized virtually anywhere.
DiMartini said Turbana’s single fingers are used mostly in the foodservice industry, including schools, and at convenience stores.
Convenient healthy options
The presence of fresh fruit in convenience stores is a growing trend, and bananas are on the leading edge, with major players such as Dole Fresh Fruit making them easier than ever to stock.
The Westlake Village, Calif., company offers two pack options aimed at convenience stores: Single 150s and Take-One Packs.
The Single 150 boxes have 150 trimmed banana fingers, each 7-8 inches long. They are marketed at a fixed, predetermined price. The Take-One Pack boxes each have 28-32 banana fingers, ranging from 8.5 inches to 9.5 inches. They are also marketed at a fixed price.
Chiquita Brands also offers single banana fingers. The Cincinnati-based company featured two package sizes of singles at Fruit Logistica 2012 in Berlin. One option is a box with 30 bananas. The other is a crate of 150 single fingers.
Pricing and displays of bananas at convenience stores varies widely. A late-February promotion at QuikTrip stores in the Kansas City metropolitan area used signs at gas pumps to tout bananas for 39 cents per pound. During the same week, truck stops along Interstate 70 near St. Louis were selling single fingers at prices ranging from 59 cents each up to $1.
Specialties slowly gain ground
Although the traditional cavendish variety still accounts for the vast majority of banana sales in the U.S., specialties such as reds, minis and plantains are becoming more popular.
At Del Monte, about 5% of all banana sales are in the specialty varieties, Christou said. He attributes much of the growing popularity to the growing ethnic population in the U.S. He said retailers in areas with high concentrations of Hispanic customers are finding great success with plantains and manzanos.
DiMartini said Turbana is working to educate its retail customers about the revenue potential of specialties.
“Different demographics utilize and prepare exotics and plantains in different ways,” DiMartini said. “We have the ability to use data that captures consumer buying behavior based on a number of measurable factors. We share this data with our retailers.”
The Turbana strategy is to help its retailers capitalize on the potential of certain items to increase their margins and grow their overall banana category, DiMartini said.