Bananas Are Key Driver For Produce Department

Originally printed in the November 2019 issue of Produce Business.

Savvy merchandising and clever marketing can take sales up a notch.

Selling bananas out of the produce department isn’t hard. Selling more of them requires a bit of marketing and merchandising savvy, plus knowledge about a store’s core customers and the product itself.

“Since bananas are among the most purchased items in the store, they arguably stimulate more visits to the produce department than any other single fruit or vegetable,” explains Bil Goldfield, director of corporate communications for Dole Food Company in Westlake Village, CA.

“This means that produce managers can use a well-stocked, visually compelling display of ripe and nearly ripe bananas to attract shoppers for incremental banana and other produce purchases, and even complementary products through secondary displays in the vicinity,” he adds.

Bananas are also a key signal to customers about the store itself.

“Bananas are the No. 1 single volume item in the department, and are often a quality gauge for the entire store,” according to Jack Howell, senior vice president of sales for Fyffes North America. They are also “still one of the most important commodities in the produce department. Their value is unsurpassed not just in produce, but also in the entire store,” adds Justin Heffernan, Fyffes’ vice president of sales, retail.

“Bananas have become a staple in every kitchen around the world for their versatility, taste, nutrients and ease of preparation and consumption,” says Jamie Postell, director of sales, North America for Chiquita Brands. “They offer a great source of fiber and heart-healthy fats, providing the feeling of staying fuller longer. The fruit also provides an excellent natural sugar source — fructose — that is slowly digested and absorbed, preventing sugar spikes that leave consumers craving more sugary foods. While consumers know bananas are good for physical well-being, it is also proven bananas are good for mental well-being,” says Postell.

“Typically, bananas are a loss leader for a lot of supermarkets,” notes Anthony Serafino, vice president at Exp Group LLC in North Bergen, NJ. “They bring traffic into the store, and the produce department.”

Serafino says there “is no right or wrong answer” when it comes to crafting merchandising strategies. “We recommend bananas be sold in a clear bag so it is protected. Consumers can see how the product looks regardless, and we feel that is the most important.”

Interestingly, Serafino looks at the overall department as a determining factor in how to sell more bananas. “How you market the fruit in your produce department will always impact how many boxes you sell. Typically, retailers will have bananas toward the front of a department, so it’s the first thing the consumer sees when entering a store.”

He says retailers “should always have bananas in the front of their department because that commodity demands the most floor traffic.”
Serafino also thinks that apples, oranges and grapes are the most effective cross-merchandising choices. “Those commodities have similar demand to bananas, and they are widely popular.”

An Essential Part

“As one of consumers’ favorite fruits, bananas are an essential part of every produce department,” insists Dionysios Christou, vice president of marketing, Del Monte Fresh Produce, Coral Gables, FL. He calls them “one of the stores’ most important SKUs,” and as such thinks bananas should have the largest display of all fruits on offer. “A large display makes bananas a feature for consumers, and gives the retailer the opportunity to make an impact with shoppers in store.”

To generate maximum sales, Del Monte recommends merchandising bananas between stages four and five.

To generate maximum sales, Del Monte recommends merchandising bananas between stages four and five on the Del Monte color chart, when the bananas are bright yellow with green tips. “Sales begin to dip when consumers consider the bananas on display to be overripe,” says Christou. “Today’s consumers are increasingly looking for fruit that is ready to eat now.”

As with many items found in the produce department, regional difference can make a difference. Cavendish bananas, however, are popular throughout North America. According to Christou, there is an increased demand for specialty bananas, such as Manzano and plantains, in regions with greater Hispanic populations.

An effective way to increase sales is to cross-merchandize bananas with other products, says Christou. “For example, a secondary display of bananas in the cereal aisle will engage health-conscious shoppers, while displaying bananas with grab-and-go snacks will engage Millennial consumers looking for healthier options.”

Del Monte recommends unbagged bananas to all of its customers. Consumers “are increasingly asking why some retailers choose to merchandise bananas in plastic bags when the fruit naturally comes in its own protective skin,” says Christou. “Some retailers do require that each hand of bananas be packaged as an individual unit, and bagged bananas can be a solution that meets that need. As a consumer-centric organization, we’re working with our customers to implement solutions that meet the consumer desire to limit single-use plastic, while also meeting our customers’ need to merchandize banana hands as single units in store.”

Knowing the local customer base is important. In Del Monte’s view, older groups tend to purchase more bananas as part of their grocery shopping than younger consumers. “There could be many reasons for this,” notes Christou. “For example, younger consumers may live alone and shop only for themselves, while older consumer groups may be grocery shopping for their family. Younger consumers may also be purchasing bananas on the go in non-traditional locations such as coffee shops and convenience stores. Merchandising bananas alongside grab-and-go snacks can help to engage this younger demographic.”

At the same time, health-conscious consumers enjoy bananas as a fruit that is easy to incorporate into their daily routine — for example, as a breakfast accompaniment or an easy-to-pack and consume snack on the go. Highlighting the versatility of bananas through innovative merchandising and promotions can help to encourage consumers across all demographics to add this popular fruit to their shopping basket.

Displays And Departments

There is a lot riding on bananas looking near perfect at retail.

“The most important thing is to be in stock and have quality bananas at the color stages consumers desire,” advises Postell. “With different global research indicating that bananas are among the top fruits to drive the produce department image, Chiquita recommends displaying bananas at the front or middle section of the produce department depending on the retailer’s specific store footprint. It’s critically important to ensure bananas are in-stock and have the quality at the color stages that consumers desire.”

Produce departments, “and even to a larger extent the entire store, are judged by the quality of their banana displays,” says Goldfield. “We’ve found a well-stocked, pristine display of ripe and almost-ripe fruit is the best place to start — especially for a product that has one of the highest household penetrations in the produce section.”

“Something that should be kept in mind is conventional bananas make up nearly 90% of category sales, driving approximately 3,700 pounds per store per week more than organic. However, about 60-65% of consumers are exclusive to organic, 1-2% are exclusive to conventional and approximately 30-35% are dual buyers. ”

— Jamie Postell, Chiquita Brands

Dole works directly with retailers to encourage existing shoppers to increase banana purchase size and frequency to grow sales. “Through original Dole recipes, serving suggestions and holiday- and character-driven usage ideas, we encourage consumers to purchase more of the fruit they already love.”

Dole recommends an equal balance of perfectly yellow fruit for immediate consumption and slightly green fruit that can be ripened at home and eaten in several days. Since having to throw away overly ripe fruit is one of the most common complaints from Dole Banana consumers, says Goldfield, offering a two-color program with a supply of greener fruit “is a benefit for time-strapped shoppers, especially among large households and those using bananas in recipes. We’ve also found stocking almost-ripe fruit will lead to larger purchase sizes since consumers will be more likely to buy in advance.”

When it comes to in-store, Dole seeks to bring big-brand CPG promotional sophistication to the produce department. “We offer our retail partners turn-key promotional programs, marketing partnerships, digital advertising, social support, customized collateral, retailer contests, POS signage, recipe cards and other incentives to drive incremental banana displays and sales inside the store,” says Goldfield.

In addition, Dole recommends maintaining secondary displays at checkout and other strategic locations throughout the store to increase impulse and grab-and-go purchases.

Demographics figure strong in the mix. Parents and heads of households with children at home are still the largest purchasers of Dole bananas. “However,” says Goldfield, “thanks to their universal appeal, bananas will always defy easy demographic classification.”

A good example is Dole’s multi-year nutritional collaboration with Disney. Dole remains committed to collaborating with Disney to help parents motivate their families toward healthier eating and a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables. “At the end of the day,” says Goldfield, “our goal is to make healthy eating fun and cultivate more banana — and fresh produce — fans for life.”

As he explains, research shows that favorite characters have a tremendous influence on acceptance and behavior among children. “When kids see favorite characters promoting fruit and vegetable consumption, they are more likely to choose fruits and vegetables themselves. The strength of Dole’s 150-plus years of fresh produce and nutrition education, combined with Disney, Pixar and Star Wars films and characters, is championing the cause with impressive results.”

One of the most beneficial aspects of Dole’s alliance with Disney has been its ability to leverage some of the most universally beloved Disney, Pixar and Star Wars movies that ultimately appeal not just to families with kids but to all audiences and all age demographics — including students, Millennials, married adults without kids and seniors.

“After separate healthy-living campaigns themed to Disney’s Moana, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Disney — Pixar’s Cars 3 and Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” says Goldfield, “we launched our Powering the Hero Within initiative in 2018 to honor parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches and heads of households fighting for healthier families, schools and communities.” Dole will cap 2019 with a three-month tribute to Disney’s Frozen 2, featuring enchanting original recipes plus digital, social media, public relations and blogger/influencer extensions and Disney’s Frozen 2 characters on millions of Dole Bananas at supermarkets across North America. “We’ll continue our alliance with Disney in 2020,” says Goldfield.

Color Palette

Consumers desire multiple stages of ripeness. Frequent banana buyers have a strong preference for mostly yellow bananas, notes Fyffes’ Howell, while less-frequent banana buyers prefer bananas with more green than yellow. Fyffes’ Heffernan sees almost-ripened product as highly popular. “Customer preferences vary on the perfect stage to eat a banana, often times even within the same house. Let the customers take the bananas ‘the last mile’ to their desired liking,” he advises.

Heffernan points out while ripe bananas are “pretty consistent within a stage or so,” some areas require a section of ‘hard green’ unprocessed bananas for cooking. “Also, some areas prefer bagged bananas versus bulk.”

The choice of bagged or unbagged “is really up to what the consumer demands, which can vary by region,” says Heffernan. “Bagged bananas often drive higher rings at the register by making the customer purchase a set amount versus breaking off a couple bananas for their needs.”

Eye-stopping displays in prominent locations are sure to shake up shoppers.

Location for any product can be all-important in produce departments. As Heffernan points out, many banana displays have been relegated to the back of the department because some think of them as “an old reliable item that customers will come seek out no matter what. If you’re seeing sluggish sales it may be time to shake things up and move them into a higher-traffic area within the department.”

When it comes to produce department merchandising, retailers “want to keep your bananas single layered to avoid bruising and scarring,” says Howell. “To achieve this, we recommend having a banana display that will turn every eight hours.”

Heffernan notes, “The thing about bananas is they take up a lot of space because you don’t want to stack them and cause damage. They need to be spread out. An 8- to 16-foot display is good for most stores depending on volume and labor allotment to the department.”

Every demographic buys bananas, says Heffernan. “A great way to target younger and older groups is to feature smaller size bananas (juniors), which are the perfect size for a snack. Organic banana sales continue to grow by double-digits, he adds, as more consumers switch over from conventional. “Specialty bananas fill a niche, and there is great growth in plantains as more and more people become familiar with them.”

As organic produce continues to grow, Chiquita’s Postell says, understanding the balancing act between organics and conventional is becoming pivotal to retail strategy. “A cohesive category management plan is paramount to capitalize on this growing trend without cannibalizing conventional. The recommended space allocation between conventional and organic varies per retailer based on volume movement.

“Something that should be kept in mind is conventional bananas make up nearly 90% of category sales, driving approximately 3,700 pounds per store per week more than organic. However, about 60-65% of consumers are exclusive to organic, 1-2% are exclusive to conventional and approximately 30-35% are dual buyers,” adds Postell.

Bananas are so versatile, explains Heffernan, that they have “endless cross-merchandising opportunities. A secondary display near the pharmacy, dairy, frozen food, or cereal aisles will always generate incremental sales.” Within the produce department, tying in with berries or avocados for a smoothie destination is “a great idea.”