business news in context, analysis with attitude

Fascinating piece in the Boston Globe illustrating how technology is being used to make certain kinds of food more convenient – and, in the process, drive higher level of sales.

The challenge was this. Chiquita, which traditionally has sold its bananas by the bunch mostly in supermarkets, believed that if it could find a way to stabilize the ripening process, it could sell more single bananas in places like convenience stores, coffee shops, and drugstores.

The Globe reports, “Over the past five years, Chiquita worked with Boston consulting firm GEN3 Partners to figure out how to delay the banana's ripening process. Bananas ripen more rapidly and delicately than many other fruits as bananas interact with carbon dioxide. They can turn from green to yellow with overripe brown spots in just a week. More rugged fruits such as apples and pears ripen much more slowly.

“Typically, green bananas are packaged in temperature-controlled boxes of 58 degrees, which delays ripening. Then they are delivered to supermarkets, where consumers are willing to buy the fruits even if they aren't ready to eat. But green bananas wouldn't appeal to on-the-go consumers at convenience stores or coffee shops. And convenience stores don't have the luxury of daily deliveries to replenish bananas once they start getting brown spots.”

The companies found that “the pharmaceutical industry had engineered plastics that regulate air flow in boxes and decided to apply that technology to bananas,” and so now, bananas slated for convenience-driven outlets “are laid on top of one another in boxes that are covered with a semi permeable membrane that allows oxygen to pass through but controls the flow of carbon dioxide to delay ripening until the box is opened.”

That’s the scientific process. The bottom line, according to the Globe: “Retailers can sell single Chiquita to Go bananas for about 75 cents each, compared to about 69 cents per pound in the grocery store (there's usually about two bananas in a pound).”
KC's View:
For those of us who actually believe that the banana is indeed the perfect fruit, the idea of a banana that ripens more slowly is heaven.