Banana leaders apply modern resources to expand brand promotion.
Originally printed in the November 2023 issue of Produce Business.
Banana companies long ago became industry leaders in merchandising. The fiercely competitive business made it critically important to establish brand names. To this day, the short list of brand names is known throughout the world.
The competitive climate remains, and banana companies apply many modern resources to expand their brand promotion.
Dole works with retail partners on multiple merchandising fronts, according to Bil Goldfield, director of corporate communications, Dole Food Company Inc., Charlotte, NC.
For example, in September, Dole ran a back-to-school campaign featuring its iconic mascot, Bobby Banana, to generate online and in-store awareness for the ubiquitous yellow fruit. This program contains usage ideas, downloadable interactives, and activities to help parents engage with kids and nutrition as they geared up for the busy return to school.
“We primarily work with retailers who want to leverage any of Dole’s marketing campaigns or seasonal initiatives, including our healthy-living collaborations with The Walt Disney Company,” says Goldfield.
He adds that a customized POS promotion is “still one of the best ways to inform and persuade shoppers to increase their banana purchases — and Dole has more to offer retailers than any other provider.”
Later this fall, the emphasis is on Dole’s six-month in-store and at-home celebration of Disney’s Wish and the 100th year of Disney animation. For retailers that want to capitalize on the buzz surrounding this November 2023 theatrical release, Dole can create customized POS displays and other materials that bring the magic of the film right into the produce department.
At Ft. Lauderdale, FL-based Chiquita North America, Jamie Postell, vice president of sales, says the company typically implements “a ‘360-Marketing’ approach to support its retail customers including OOH (out-of-home) media, PR, social, in-store displays and stickers.”
And the stickers aren’t always blue. Every October, Chiquita replaces its iconic blue sticker with the pink sticker to show its solidarity with the fight against breast cancer. “This small change is meant to inspire women to make a big difference by living a healthy lifestyle and conducting regular self-examination.”
Chiquita’s October Pink Sticker campaign is a key program under the sustainability pillar of “Being a Good Neighbor,” he adds.
Retailers benefit from promotional efforts beyond their store doors. Goldfield says, “increasingly, options outside the store — social media that shares important corporate initiatives, recipes and unexpected usage ideas, wellness articles and nutrition education and digital and online content — have largely replaced in-store POS and are now the main ways to communicate product and brand value, build affinity and drive traffic and purchasers to the store.”
He points to the example of Dole’s ongoing nutritional alliance with The Walt Disney Company. “Although customized POS displays are one of the best ways to pull attention to the display where purchase decision is ultimately made, we will feature the tactics above as well, including unique banana stickers, to pre-generate the excitement and magic of the film right into the produce department.”
Earlier this fall, Chiquita unveiled a billboard that lit up New York City’s Times Square as part of the “It Peels So Good” campaign. The goal of the campaign was to evoke an emotional response from consumers, ultimately helping them to connect to the brand.
Postell adds Chiquita recently hosted an inaugural event to welcome two new ships to its fleet. “We welcomed industry retailers and customers to enjoy activities, including a behind-the-scenes tour of one of the vessels, a lunch at the port and an overview of operations. By involving retailers and customers in these events, we feel that we are directly connecting with them, while also educating them on what Chiquita stands for as a brand.”
Goldfield says bananas have the power to generate both produce department visits and the sale of non-produce items. “We work with retailers to encourage secondary displays at checkout or alongside complementary items like cereal, nut butters or dairy to promote bananas as an impulse purchase or single-serve snack option.”
Dole also helps retailers create seasonal, meal and recipe-based displays and other merchandising to keep banana merchandising fresh and interesting. “As one example, featuring bananas in fall and winter displays reinforces the role of America’s favorite fruit in holiday and other seasonal recipes and serving suggestions.”
“Chiquita bananas are much more than just a fruit; they are packed with essential vitamins and minerals that complement and encourage a healthy lifestyle,” Postell indicates.
“Chiquita is also more than just a ‘breakfast food’ or an on-the-go snack — we developed our ‘It’s Chiquita O’ Clock’ campaign to highlight the use cases of bananas throughout the day. The campaign gave consumers more reasons to buy Chiquita bananas by providing new and trending recipe ideas to be used for breakfast, midday snacks as well as dessert,” says Postell.
BANANA VARIETY OPTIONS
Offering organics or specialized options, such as fair-trade bananas, is key to engaging the now-sizable percentage of socially and environmentally conscious shoppers, says Goldfield.
“Dole continues its commitment to social responsibility, both as one of the world’s largest fresh produce providers, and more specifically, in its conventional banana and organic programs. Our most recent accomplishments and goals were detailed in our sustainability framework, ‘Our Commitment — The Dole Way.’”
“Experiment with the ratio of yellow fruit and green fruit, but offering both options can help maximize the opportunity for retailers to increase shoppers’ basket size.”— Bil Goldfield, Dole Food Company
Organic and conventional banana varieties beyond the traditional yellow Cavendish make up a growing part of the Dole banana business, Goldfield says, adding, “It’s safe to say that much of the continued growth in the segment will come from these areas.”
Dole started its organic banana program 25 years ago, and it is now the largest grower and distributor of premium organic bananas in the U.S. “Learnings gleaned from organic farming have even been adopted into our conventional programs to deliver better bananas with less inputs,” says Goldfield.
Demand for Dole organic bananas continues to grow. “This is evident in the share of the produce department footprint devoted to organic bananas as well as many other organic fruits and vegetables. While promotional boosts and retailer programs do lead to lifts in conventional Dole bananas sales, it is in the organic segment where we see the greatest opportunity for significant long-term growth,” he says.
Chiquita’s organic banana category has also continued to trend upward, and Postell doesn’t foresee this demand declining in the near future.
“Our organic percentage distribution points have also increased, which means that organic banana offerings are available to consumers more consistently across our U.S. market. We are continuing to see this growth among our younger consumers, and attribute it to our increased distribution.”
While the Cavendish is still America’s favorite banana, Goldfield says other exotic varieties such as Dole-brand Red Bananas, Baby Bananas, and plantains are seeing increased popularity.
Stocking these varieties can boost incremental category sales and give produce managers more options for display, says Goldfield. Dole recommends retailers add other banana varieties near their traditional Cavendish displays to not only keep up with growing customer interest in exotic fruits and vegetables, but to strengthen the banana’s long-term role as the No. 1 produce at retail.
In 2018, Chiquita entered a joint venture with KeyGene and MusaRadix known as Yelloway. This banana innovation company undertakes research into banana varieties that are resistant to fusarium wilt and black Sigatoka through an approach that marries modern bioinformatics and classical plant breeding.
Postell reports Yelloway has now reached a major milestone in its field-trialing resistant varieties of bananas developed in greenhouse conditions in the Netherlands. “The goal is to produce three new resistant varieties that look, feel, taste and store like Cavendish we know today,” says Postell.
When it comes to ripe programs, consumers often want both fruit they can enjoy immediately and fruit they can enjoy in several days — and to purchase both during the same shopping trip.
“Retailers providing a two-color banana program should treat yellow and green bananas as separate order items,” says Goldfield. “Experiment with the ratio of yellow fruit and green fruit, but offering both options can help maximize the opportunity for retailers to increase shoppers’ basket size.”
He adds that Dole’s technical services department offers retailers insights. This team travels across North American customer locations in order to assist in recommended ripening best practices for each customer’s banana programs.
“This is not a cookie-cutter program, as each retailer has specific customer needs. This highly retailer-focused group provides assistance from product arrival at the U.S. port through the distribution chain and all the way to shelf,” he says.
• • •
Global Fairtrade ‘Banana Domination’
In Canada’s banana business, something is shaking, and the reverberation is growing, according to Kim Chackal, director of sales and marketing, and recently a co-owner of the Montreal-based banana distributor, Equifruit.
Tradition is not OK with Chackal and Jennie Coleman, Equifruit’s president and co-owner. Coleman acquired the Fairtrade banana company in 2013. Chackal came aboard nine years ago. It’s over the last couple of years that the firm has seen an especially strong growth in produce buyer interest.
On Oct. 5, Equifruit announced it had won the prestigious Fairtrade Innovation Award at the inaugural Fairtrade Global Awards 2023 in Nairobi, Kenya. Equifruit has consistently championed ethical fruit sourcing with a 100% commitment to fair trade principles, advancing its mission with relentless tenacity.
Displaying innovative marketing prowess, Equifruit introduced a groundbreaking branding strategy in 2021, targeting Millennials and Gen Z consumers. The firm describes this as “a mission to make fair trade as interesting, followable and loved as pop culture.”
Equifruit tapped into trending themes and used unexpected hooks in its packaging and advertising. Phrases like “The Only Banana to Binge Watch,” “The Only Banana with a True Crimes Podcast,” and “The Only Banana Sharks Eat” grabbed the attention of consumers and retailers alike, shedding light on the importance of fair pay for farmers and equitable trading relationships.
“We want to make fair trade bananas mainstream. We say, kind of tongue in cheek, that our mission is ‘Global Fairtrade Banana Domination.’ This is what we’re trying to achieve. We don’t want it to be a niche product, which is really what it felt like when we started with the business,” says Chackal.
“Our goal is for all retailers to acknowledge that it’s not OK that banana prices are cheaper today than they were 25 years ago. When you adjust for inflation, you know there’s no match,” she says.
Today’s banana prices don’t begin to compete with recent grocery food inflation costs. The average retail price of bananas in 1980 was 30-40 cents. “Today the average U.S. retail banana price is 64 cents a pound. So, over a 43-year period, it’s gone up 30 cents. But if we just took that 34 cents a pound in 1980 and we adjusted it for inflation, we should see bananas at retail at $1.30 on conventional bananas. And we’re not even halfway there,” says Chackal.
‘FUN AND ZANY’
“What Equifruit can contribute to this change is our really fun and zany way of marketing fair trade bananas,” she continues. “We’ve made what’s really a difficult and uncomfortable story, fun and appetizing.
“So, if you go on to our social media or you look at our point-of-sale material, you’re going to see a brand that’s very colorful, that uses culturally relevant memes.”
Equifruit targets “especially younger generations” and works with whatever is happening in the world “so that we can target those who are going to support brands that are doing good, and we can speak their language and help them become ambassadors of our brand.”
DEFINING FAIR TRADE
Chackal explains there is a great difference between fair trade certifications. “Equifruit has chosen to follow what’s been successful in the European market. And that is the Fairtrade International.”
Fairtrade International certifications are much stricter than Fair Trade USA. The U.S. designation, she adds, “in my own opinion, is much cheaper to get and not the best benefit — not the same financial protection — for plantation workers.”
“If we’re not paying partners fairly, we’re not going to be able to enjoy their products for the long term. So, fair trade is really becoming part of that sustainability conversation.”
Chackal says the private label products of every major Canadian retailer, such as Costco, Walmart, Loblaws, Sobeys and Metro, carry the Fairtrade International mark. This includes coffee, some tea, and, in some cases, chocolate and cocoa. “Every major retailer in Canada, except for Loblaws, has some form of a fair trade banana program, all organic,” says Chackal.
Equifruit’s advocacy “has been really responsible for getting the market and Canada to pay attention to why fair trade bananas are important. We’ve had some strong partnerships that have raised a lot of attention over the past decade.”
For longer than that, in Quebec, Sobeys Inc. has been an Equifruit partner committed to carrying fair trade organic bananas. Longo’s in Ontario started an Equifruit organic Fairtrade program in 2017 and a couple of years ago, converted its entire banana business to Equifruit. Equifruit bananas are in roughly two-thirds of Canadian Costcos.
“The conversations that I’ve had with retailers and distributors in the last two years have been more promising than the whole nine years of my career. I see a clear shift,” says Chackal.
In the U.S., Equifruit is “still becoming familiar with the market. We’ve just begun selling Equifruit bananas in New York through Costco in select warehouses. But my observation of the market so far is that there is a ton of education to be done on bananas.”
Equifruit sources bananas in Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, Nicaragua and Mexico. The fruit is transported through contracts with conventional banana companies, as well as other carriers. Mostly Equifruit bananas are discharged in Philadelphia, PA, and then trans-shipped to Canadian customers. Western Canada is served via Port Hueneme, CA.