Snacks & Candy

C-Stores Still Appeal to Chiquita

Fruit company slipping into new channels

SAN DIEGO -- Bananas are getting some new, high-tech packaging, reported National Public Radio. The new packaging is a key part of Chiquita's effort to unlock new markets such as convenience stores, said the report.

At an ampm c-store in San Diego is offering ripe, yellow, individual bananas. Sales have been steady all through the day, clerk Chena Poe told the radio network. We get two cases. And they'll be gone within a week.

That's good news for Cincinnati-based Chiquita, which is facing a challenge of how to boost stagnant [image-nocss] sales when demand appears to have maxed out. Chiquita sold nearly 2.3 billion pounds of bananas in North America last year, nearly all of them in bunches at the grocery store, the report said. If the company wants to sell more bananas, it has to break out of the produce aisle.

Our consumer research told us many consumers would buy more bananas if they were available in different locations at different times of day, Chiquita spokesperson Mike Mitchell told NPR. And consumers have told us they'd be willing to pay prices that are comparable to what a candy bar would cost.

Chiquita sells the individual bananas at candy bar prices: 75 to 99 cents. That's three to four times what a banana costs in the supermarket, and most of the difference is pure profit. But there's a catch. Unlike grocery store shoppers who will happily buy a bunch of green bananas to eat later in the week, c-store shoppers want something they can eat immediately. Ordinarily, yellow bananas only stay yellow for a couple of days before turning brown. The fruit at ampm will keep its color much longer.

They'll be like that a week from now, Poe said. As long as we don't stick them in a refrigerator and keep them in a dry climate, they stay ripe. Perfect.

The reason is a polymer membrane on the outside of each 20-lb. Chiquita box, which slows the ripening process and keeps the bananas in a suspended state of yellow. Chiquita licenses the technology from the Apio Corp., which also uses it for fresh vegetables. The packaging works by controlling the flow of oxygen and carbon dioxide.

Consumers never see the packaging. But it guarantees a supply of ripe bananas until the next delivery truck arrives, typically once a week, said the report.

This sort of solves the problem of having green bananas Monday and brown bananas Friday, Mitchell said.

So far, Chiquita is selling individual bananas in about 8,000 c-stores around the country, and the company plans to triple that this year.

Even then, Mitchell sees plenty of room for additional growth, with more than 200,000 snack-food outlets where bananas might be sold. Those new sales shouldn't come at the expense of bananas in the supermarket. This is really meeting a need for consumers to buy a banana when they might buy something else, Mitchell told NPR. It's not replacing that banana that they still have on the kitchen counter.

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