For a fruit as well-known as the banana is, it’s crucial for individual brands to market aggressively to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

And retailers need to be on the lookout for innovative merchandising and branding solutions that can add interest and reinvigorate a long-established category workhorse.

Getting the message out

Coral Gables, Florida-based Del Monte Fresh Produce has active social media channels where the company showcases its products and regularly highlights how consumers can enjoy bananas, says Dennis Christou, the company’s vice president of marketing.

“We regularly feature giveaways and promotions on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram,” Christou says. Del Monte bananas are often featured in our promotions, including our month-long Go Bananas Halloween promotion and in our fun-filled Holiday Game.”

In one of the company’s most recent promotions, Del Monte gave away coupons for one year’s worth of bananas to thank its Instagram followers for enabling it to reach the 20,000 followers mark.

The Del Monte brand, Christou says, is recognized by consumers and retailers alike for its quality, consistency and great taste. Del Monte’s 23 company-owned distribution centers are strategically located across North America, enabling the company to provide high quality, ready-to-eat bananas on a daily basis to more locations, at just the right time.

“All Del Monte Fresh Produce operations utilize advanced systems and technologies, ensuring consistent quality, environmental sustainability and enhanced food safety,” Christou says. “We provide award-winning merchandising, category management and marketing programs to support our customers in their efforts to grow sales. We are also investing in vertical integration back to the farms to ensure consistency of quality and supply.”

When it comes to merchandising, bananas tend to sell best when positioned at the front of the store, where they catch consumers’ attention as they enter, Christou says.

Cross-merchandise for success

Cross-merchandizing to increase banana sales, such as pairing bananas with strawberries, other tropical fruit or cereal is another successful strategy. Especially since bananas are an impulse item, he says, it’s important to have the display prominently located within departments.

“Del Monte Fresh Produce category managers and merchandisers are on hand to share best practice methods with our retailers and their produce personnel to drive banana sales,” Christou adds. “We recommend that retailers adopt tactics such as leveraging eye-catching promotional items and merchandising activities that entice and inform consumers.”

That might include development of seasonal POS for shelves, improved labeling information about the product nutrition and convenience, and displays of single bananas close to the checkout and entrance of the store.

Strategically placing secondary displays in areas such as the cereal aisle also helps to drive banana sales, Christou says. And ensuring proper rotation of produce guarantees higher quality and availability of both ready-to-eat today and ready-later fruit.

Del Monte Fresh Produce also continues to offer the CRT and Ripe Lock technologies, which improve shelf life and reduce labor expenses throughout the supply chain after the ripening process has been completed.

Snack attack

Snacking is taking most corners of the retail food world by storm, and bananas and plantains are no exception. Coral Gables, Florida-based Turbana, a division of Fyffes North America Inc., markets both plantain chips and banana chips in the fresh produce sections of U.S. grocery stores.

In 2018, Turbana introduced a new packaging alternative for its chip snacking products, says Carolina Coulson, product manager of snacks, tropical division, for Fyffes.

“We designed and launched a variety pack bag composed of our top three selling flavors,” she says. “This fun pack includes six individual 1 oz bags that are perfect for a quick snack or a children's portion for school lunch packs.”

The idea behind the product, Coulson says, was to expand Turbana’s demographic approach as well as to offer some alternative flavors to some of the company’s loyal consumers.

Plantain chips are a delicious snack that can be enjoyed in many different ways, Coulson says.

“They’re great fresh out of the bag, and an awesome and healthier alternative to potato chips and other snacks,” she says.

Bring on the flavors

New in the category, Coulson says, is a trend toward new and innovative flavors. Turbana has the most extensive list of flavors in the market, all of which are made with natural ingredients.

Turbana markets six flavors in all: lightly salted, sweet, lime, chili, chili lime and garlic.

The company prides itself, Coulson says, on marketing healthy snacks that are GMO-, gluten- and cholesterol-free with no additives, preservatives or trans fats.

Retailers, she says, should merchandise Turbana chips in areas of the store where those health aspects are highlighted.  

“They’re perfect for the health-conscious shopper. Our chips should be strategically placed to optimize sales, and the best place is out of the chip aisle and near other healthy items, like fresh-pressed juices, produce or other healthy snacking options.”

Produce-based snacking has become important in the U.S. due to its health conscious nature, Coulson says. Most of the snacks in this category follow a much healthier profile while still falling into the snack category.

“This allows consumers to follow a healthy lifestyle while still indulging in the pleasures of snacking,” she says. “The category in itself has morphed into a plethora of options. This trend is certainly in its early to middle stages and has room for growth and continuation.” 

Impulse buying, Coulson says, has a big impact on sales. Placing Turbana plantain and banana chips where consumers also find regular bananas and plantains helps consumers find new and innovative products.

“The addition of a healthy snacking section in produce makes it easy for consumers to try healthy snack alternatives like plantain and banana chips that are currently rated as a top healthy snack in the industry.”

Chiquita commits to zero banana waste by 2020  

Bananas are the fourth most important food crop in the world, after rice, wheat, and maize. They’re essential food for millions of people all over the world. Taking this into account, Chiquita’s goal is to achieve zero banana waste by 2020.

Chiquita has high export product standards. But the company says that means some bananas don’t make the cut. Naturally, 5 to 20 percent of bananas don’t meet Chiquita quality standards each year. There are several reasons why a banana won’t meet the standards, but that doesn’t mean they don’t serve a good purpose, according to the company.

Often, bananas don’t meet the quality standard because they don’t look good. Small differences in the appearance mean that the banana will not be exported for store display. These bananas are nonetheless perfectly good to eat and are packed with nutrients, so they are turned into purée.

Chiquita owns a purée plant in Costa Rica, where an average of 65,000 tons of bananas a year from Panama and Costa Rica are processed into delicious, wholesome banana purée, according to the company. If they don’t become banana purée, they become banana flour. In 2016, Chiquita sold 16,000 tons of non-exportable bananas to the company Inversiones y productos agroindustriales (Inprosa).

Some bananas are bruised. In order not to waste them, they’re also put to good use. These bananas are given to farmers who use them to feed their animals.

The inedible parts of the banana plant also can be salvaged. “They actually have a fantastic and very practical use —we use the banana leaves, trucks and stems to protect the soil from erosion, and conserve moisture,” according to Chiquita. “In addition, this organic matter stops weed growth. It’s the perfect biological and natural fertilizer. The composting trenches on the farms are also a favorite feeding place for birds, deer, insects, and frogs.”