When it comes to the produce department, bananas are king, and the companies that import and distribute the popular fruit are doing what they can to keep them on top.

Consider the facts:

  • According to The Packer’s 2013 Merchandising Guide, bananas lead all produce categories, providing nearly 6% of a produce department’s sales.
  • The banana’s contribution to all produce department sales actually slipped up to 6% in 2013, but banana dollar sales increased nearly 4%, according to Nielsen Perishables Group.
  • Retail sales topped $3.1 billion in 2011 and 2012, according to FreshLook Marketing.
  • U.S. retail sales exceeded 5.4 billion pounds in 2012.
  • The Packer’s Fresh Trends data indicates that 84% of consumers purchased bananas at least once in the past year.

Bananas still have great appealSo how do some of the nation’s biggest banana distributors suggest retailers maximize the popularity of their product?

“Cross merchandising is an effective way to grow sales in the category by increasing impulse purchases,” said Dennis Christou, vice president of marketing for Coral Gables, Fla.-based Del Monte Fresh Produce. “When cross merchandising, retailers have the opportunity to increase not only banana sales but also sales of related products. Adding eye-catching POS (point-of-sale) materials, such as a banner, recipe card or nutrition information, is another way to gain the consumer’s attention.”

Christou said themed displays, such as tropical-themed displays that also include specialty bananas and other exotic fruits, also attract shoppers and increase impulse purchases of bananas.

Regardless of what type of display or promotion is being used, Bil Goldfield, director of corporate communications for Dole Fresh Fruit, Westlake Village, Calif., said a “robust and properly merchandised banana display is most effective at stimulating banana sales when it is supported by a secondary display in the front of the store or at check-out.”

“This second display can specifically target bananas as a grab-and-go snack option and impulse purchases,” he said. “Traditionally, secondary placement with breakfast cereals, peanut butter and even milk and yogurt has worked well. However, thanks to growing interest in some of the more exotic banana varieties, these incremental displays should also be considered for the baking aisle or adjacent to proteins to suggest them as a compelling side dish.”

Christou said Del Monte works directly with its customers and offers customized events and promotions to help promote the category. Meanwhile, Goldfield said Dole plans to expand its Peel the Love campaign, which saw its food truck hand out more than 100,000 samples last summer and fall, to 25 cities this summer.

Of course, some consumers are choosing bananas at locations other than the grocery store.

“The growing demand for fresh fruits and vegetables is allowing items like bananas to penetrate new points of sale,” said Marion Tabard, marketing director for Coral Gables, Fla.-based Turbana Corp. “Their portability and value are making them an attractive item for convenience stores, merchants and cafes to offer to their consumers.”