Retailers can capitalize on the public’s love for bananas as an entry point to produce.
As bananas have long been the biggest selling produce item, the category can too easily be taken for granted. The popular yellow fruit is continually ranked as one of the top-selling items sold in grocery stores nationwide.
According to FreshFacts on Retail, published by Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association and Nielsen Fresh, New York, 86 percent of households placed bananas in their shopping carts in 2016. While bananas trail berries, packaged salads, citrus, apples, grapes and tomatoes in weekly store sales, the fruit leads the entire produce department in terms of weekly per-store volume sales. In 2016, bananas accounted for 4,647 units, considerably higher than other produce. Potatoes are 3,591 units, melons accounted for 2,548 units, citrus, 2,453 and apples, 1,900.
“It’s a big sales category,” says Steve Williams, director of produce and floral for Fiesta Mart, a Houston-based retailer. “It’s probably one of the most consistent categories. The category is so important. Bananas bring a lot of profitability to the department.”
As around 90 percent of U.S. households purchase bananas every week, bananas are also the most frequently purchased produce item by males, says Bil Goldfield, director of corporate communications for Dole Food Co., headquartered in Westlake Village, CA. “Consumer demand for bananas is consistently strong year-after-year, regardless of demographics,” he says.
Though movement experiences ups and downs throughout the year, because bananas are produced year-round, consumption remains steady, says Mayra Velazquez de León, president and chief executive of San Diego’s Organics Unlimited Inc. Organics Unlimited distributes bananas throughout North America and Japan. “Bananas are No. 1 in produce, period,” she says. “It’s staying there (in that position) and will stay that popular.”
The diversifying of the American palate is helping boost consumption, says Velazquez de León. “There’s a diversity on what we are eating now everywhere,” she says. “There’s more of an international cuisine. People are bringing the Latino flavor into U.S. plates.”
Banana demand is strong for all groups and demographics, but marketers should pay particular attention to children and seniors, says Velazquez de León. Banana sales increase in September when school returns as the fruit is a lunchbox favorite. “If you think about demographics, bananas are an item that’s easier for children to eat,” she says. “With a lot of vitamins and potassium, it’s something that is nutritious and is a very healthy snack. It’s so easily carried.”
Del Monte Fresh Produce N.A., Coral Gables, FL, is experiencing increasing demand for bananas, says Dionysios Christou, vice president of marketing. Organics is also growing, he says. “We will continue to see an increase in the demand for bananas by foodservice and convenience channels as consumers look for fresh, healthy options on-the-go,” says Christou. “As consumers grow more health-conscious, they have undoubtedly grown to expect fresh, nutritious products during every eating occasion.”
Pay Attention to Displays
Proper display placement is vital, says Christou. Product tends to sell the best at the front of the store, catching consumers’ attention as they enter, he says. Retailers should adopt various tactics such as eye-catching promotional items and merchandising activities that entice and educate consumers. That could include development of seasonal point-of-sale on the shelves, on-the-go items designed for convenience and displays close to the checkout area and store entrances. Some best practices for retailers include attractive product displays, demos, enhanced display sizes and strategic point-of-sale material, he says.
“Del Monte category managers and merchandisers are constantly communicating with our retailers and their produce personnel to share best strategies for driving banana sales,” says Christou. Such tactics include secondary displays, cross-merchandising and improved labeling information about the product’s nutrition and convenience. Full shelves are also important to give consumers a fresh perspective.
“Regardless of the display placement, shoppers are looking for a full display of bright, clean, healthy bananas. Keeping the banana display fully stocked with beautiful, ripe bananas is the key to attracting consumers’ attention.”
— Bil Goldfield, Dole Food Co.
Proper stacking is important. In the past, Fiesta Mart stacked bananas three layers high. Today, to reduce shrink, it only stacks single layers. The hard banana crowns can bruise and place black marks on the bottoms of bananas that rest on top of them. The chain is teaching its produce workers to stock bananas more often instead of loading up displays. “Keep the banana display well-stocked, well-maintained, but one layer high,” says Williams. “That gives customers a much better product.”
Noticeable displays are critical, says Tracie Levin, general manager of Philadelphia-based M. Levin & Co. “Displays help to prominently display bananas to customers,” she says. “They make them more appealing and should be somewhere where they are easy to be picked up quickly and placed in carts. The advantage of merchandising fruit unbagged is that customers can clearly see the color of the bananas, as well as check for damage and or bruising to pick the most appealing bunch.”
According to Velazquez de León, bananas require an eye for detail. “When it comes to bananas, I have seen a lot of displays that are all over the place,” she says. Paying closer attention to the displays could help increase sales. Retail produce clerks should clean the display by removing freckled bananas. If the display includes ripe bananas, retailers should place them in banana bags. The key is to make sure displays are always nice-looking. “Sloppy displays don’t encourage purchases,” she says. “Make sure you refresh the look of the displays.”
Color My World
To build additional sales, Dole recommends retailers feature a two-color banana program whenever possible, says Goldfield. Some shoppers prefer bananas of a greener color, either for cooking or to enjoy later. Offering bananas in multiple stages of ripeness allow consumers to purchase vibrant yellow bananas for immediate use or for later preparation of recipes calling for starchier bananas.
“Regardless of the display placement, shoppers are looking for a full display of bright, clean, healthy bananas,” advises Goldfield. “Keeping the banana display fully stocked with beautiful, ripe bananas is the key to attracting consumer’s attention.”
In terms of best practices for retailers, M. Levin works to provide its customers with the color they need when they need it. Once at retail, bananas shouldn’t be stored in refrigerated spaces, which make for incorrect storage temperatures, says Levin. Storing bananas at the correct temperatures, as well as purchasing them at various degrees of ripeness, will ensure retailers are supplied the correct color at the correct time for effective merchandising, she says.
“As a retailer, where you strategically place your bananas in the department is extremely important. They are such a draw.”
— Steve Williams, Fiesta Mart
Bananas are frequently merchandised in other areas of the store with milk, ice cream, cookies and other items. Many retailers place secondary displays in other departments to stimulate sales. A smaller banana display can also boost sales when situated as a complement adjacent to breakfast cereals, peanut butter or dairy sections, says Dole’s Goldfield. “A display near check-out registers, for example, can boost sales of single bananas, positioning the banana as a healthy grab-and-go snack option or impulse purchase,” he says.
Ripe for Cross-Merchandising
Stationing displays in areas such as the cereal aisle will also help increase banana sales, says Christou. Cross-merchandising bananas with strawberries, other tropical fruit, cereal and other items can contribute to an increase in sales across the categories, he says.
Bananas are a key produce item ripe for cross-merchandising, says Levin. “Supermarkets have many opportunities to cross-merchandise with bananas,” she says. “Bananas near the front or in the middle of the cereal aisle is always a great idea.”
Sales can increase if retailers look beyond the typical bananas and milk or bananas and cereal, says Velazquez de León. “Let’s get out of our comfort zone and see what else is out there,” she says. “Pair them with other fruit, any kind of fruit, for fruit cocktails.” Bananas can be easily moved around and placed next to refrigerated areas of the store and other non-typical areas of the store, adds Velazquez de León.
Fiesta Mart’s produce department works with the grocery section to cross-merchandise bananas. The strategy is wise, says Williams, because shoppers who purchase bananas are known for bigger shopping cart sizes, he says, which benefits the entire store. “It’s unbelievable vanilla wafers will sell like mad next to our bananas,” says Williams.
Center Field Advantage
Fiesta Mart merchandises its bananas in the middle of the produce department. “As a retailer, where you strategically place your bananas in the department is extremely important,” says Williams. “They are such a draw.”
Promoting bananas for smoothies is also wise. Erecting displays of bananas alongside berries, pineapples and other fruit within the produce section can boost incremental sales, particularly during summer, New Year’s and other seasons with a focus on healthy eating and smoothies.
Smoothie demand is helping sales, says Christou. “Smoothies are becoming a big part of healthy lifestyles, and bananas make a delicious ingredient for energy-packed, kid-friendly smoothies as well,” he says.
Levin agrees. “Bananas are and always will be a staple of smoothies,” she says. “With many juice and smoothie shops popping up all over, one will always find a plethora of bananas.”
For pricing, Fiesta Mart doesn’t advertise or regularly discount bananas. The average customer won’t buy any more bananas if the price declines from 40 cents a pound to 33 cents a pound, says Williams. Most stores seem to sell bananas at the same price to stay competitive, observes Levin.
Proper merchandising requires store clerks to watch bananas daily and check existing supplies versus ones scheduled to arrive, which could create many leftovers. If a produce manager runs long on bananas and must mark down prices, it’s best to do so when quality bananas are still in stock.
“It’s better to mark a good banana down to get those final cases out before the next load arrives,” says Williams. “Better to do that than wait until you’re backed way up, instead of putting them in a bag and selling for 19 cents a pound.”
Increasing Organic Demand
Bananas are benefiting from heightened interest in organic produce. With $204 in weekly per store organic dollar sales, bananas follow packaged salads, berries, apples, herbs, spices and seasonings, carrots and beverages, according to FreshFacts. However, bananas are the biggest organic produce mover in weekly per store volume sales, representing 260 units. That’s higher than packaged salad’s 238 units and apples and carrots, which are each at 131 units. In 2016, organic banana weekly per store volume increased 26.8 percent compared to the previous year, below berries’ 27.3 percent, according to the report.
“Organic demand is growing every year,” says Organics Unlimited’s Velazquez de León. Organic bananas fit in well with the trends of increased interest in healthy lifestyles. With the larger banana marketers entering the category, organic fruit is becoming more readily available as most retail chains carry organics.
“All of a sudden, there’s a boom in the organic banana availability everywhere,” says Velazquez de León. “People tend to buy more organic throughout the produce department. Bananas are one of the things that are really strong.”
Dole began its organic program more than 20 years ago and has since become one of the largest U.S. growers and distributors of organic bananas. Its organic production and diverse sourcing network allow Dole to meet with increasing consumption, says Goldfield. “In recent years, we have seen strong growth in demand for Dole organic bananas, by both retailers and consumers,” he says. “Industry stats clearly prove that organic is no longer just a trend.”
According to Christou, organic demand shows little evidence of slowing. “The organic component of the banana category has seen continuous positive growth,” he says. “Volume and demand continue to increase for this product as consumers’ interest in organic produce continues to rise. In fact, we find demand for this particular product is increasing much faster than the availability of product.”
Increasing interest in banana varieties — the specialty bananas — is also helping increase consumption. Dole is experiencing growing interest in varieties that include Dole branded Baby bananas, plantains and red bananas. “These types of bananas are becoming more prevalent, not just at specialty and ethnic retailers, but at mainstream supermarkets alongside the conventional Cavendish bananas, which still remain the most popular variety,” says Goldfield.
“The increase in consumer interest for other exotic banana varieties is largely the result of the macro trend of consumers being exposed to new or seasonal ingredients, either at farmers markets or in restaurants, which eventually extends to trial of new tropical fruits,” says Goldfield.
Consumers find the smaller varieties — such as baby bananas and red bananas — are a great snack option that are popular with kids, while plantains are popular with consumers and restaurants for a wide range of cooking possibilities, he says.
“The organic component of the banana category has seen continuous positive growth. Volume and demand continue to increase for this product as consumers’ interest in organic produce continues to rise. ”
— Dionysios Christou, Del Monte Fresh Produce
Del Monte has experienced sales growth in specialty bananas, including reds and Manzano bananas. The plantain segment of the category is experiencing tremendous growth, according to Christou. “Consumers have developed more sophisticated tastes, and as trends in healthy eating and interest in new tropical foods continue to grow, so does the demand for these exotic and specialty bananas,” he says.
To match customer demand to ripen and distribute organic fruit, M. Levin recently earned certification from California Certified Organic Farmers as an organic handler. “The demand for organic bananas is continually increasing,” says Levin. “The petites and quads are a staple of the foodservice industry. In the fall, schools ramp up orders for foodservice bananas.”
As retailers often end up with more ripe bananas, particularly during the summer when more fruit is generally available, merchandising some of the bananas in banana bags could help expand sales, says Velazquez de León. Bagged fruit represents a solid way of selling them as consumers will buy the fruit in bags for preparing banana bread. Recipes on the banana bags can educate shoppers other ways to use bananas in their meals, she says.