When a consumer picks up a single-wrapped Del Monte banana at a 7-Eleven convenience store, or a naked Chiquita banana at Starbucks, they probably have no idea that it took years of research and millions of dollars to get that banana into their hands.
If it’s bright yellow, perfectly ripe and delicious, both companies would probably consider their money well spent.

Del Monte launched its cutting-edge controlled ripening technology last fall for single (or finger) bananas.

Dennis Christou, vice president of marketing for Del Monte Fresh Produce, Coral Gables, Fla., said the special film, which extends shelf life up to five days and helps minimize scarring and bruising, has made it possible to sell highly perishable bananas via nontraditional channels, from convenience stores to vending machines.

“The CRT packaging has given us the opportunity to break down barriers and allow all channels to offer fresh produce,” said Christou. “Today’s consumers no longer have to sacrifice their healthy eating habits for the sake of convenience.”

Chiquita has also turned to packaging technology, under an exclusive agreement with Menlo Park, Calif.-based Landec Corp. to capitalize on the health and wellness trend and bring bananas to alternative channels, such as quick-serve restaurants and drug stores.

“We introduced the product in late 2006, and we’re looking at it as a significant growth area in 2010,” said Craig Stephen, vice president of North America for bananas for Chiquita Brands International, Cincinnati.

“This technology allows us to deliver bananas over varying temperatures, arriving at their destination perfectly ripe and ready to eat,” he said. “Plus it gives the fruit some extended shelf life.”

Chiquita is in discussion with a number of organizations to market bananas, Stephen said, adding that he’s pleased with the progress of an 18-month partnership with Starbucks.

A Starbucks spokeswoman said the coffee chain sells fresh Chiquita bananas at 5,000 company-operated stores in the U.S., with stock replenished regularly. Chiquita’s banana purée is a key ingredient in its Vivanno Smoothie.

“One of our selling points with the Landec technology is that the bananas are displayed in their natural state without any packaging,” Stephen said.

Del Monte also offers 40-pound bulk CRT banana boxes to traditional grocery, club and wholesale stores. Retailers participating in the program have reported improved movement and sales compared to the same time period last year, Christou said.