(June 12) Ever since bananas were brought to these shores as a luxury item, America has had a love affair with the fruit.

In time, the banana grew to be the most purchased item in the produce department, a perch retained to this day. Indeed, 91% of shoppers bought bananas last year, according to Fresh Trends research from The Packer.

However, new data show annual banana consumption to be slipping since reaching a peak in 1999, when consumption was 30.7 pounds per capita.

Projected at just 24.7 pounds per capita this year, banana consumption has fallen 20% since 1999.

Unfortunately for banana marketers, retailers have little incentive to reverse the slide.

Despite the fact consumers eat a third more bananas than apples — the second most popular item by per capita consumption — the category is not as profitable as others. Apples, berries and grapes each comprise a greater proportion of produce department dollar sales than the banana, which captured 6.3% of department sales in 2005, according to figures from the Produce Marketing Association.

Bananas typically can be had for less than 50 cents a pound, while apples easily ring up at double, triple or quadruple the price.

Nonetheless, the sales performance of this industry mainstay should be a concern for all. The banana is one of the healthiest, tastiest, most portable produce items.

Some rejuvenating promotions are in order.