ARCADIA, Calif. -- "Hello, I'm Ken Banana-ster."
That's how International Banana Club founder Ken Bannister answers the phone, indicating his dedication to the promotion of the fruit.
Bannister made a four-day appearance two weekends ago at the Vons Pavilions store here to promote "The World's Largest Banana Display," a massive effort, which, at final count, included more than 70,000 regular and junior bananas.
"The old record is about 360 cases," said Richard Miotti, merchandising director. "We used 421 cases." That's about 20,000 pounds of bananas. Miotti ordered about 500 cases from Chiquita Banana, which Miotti uses exclusively.
After the store closed at midnight, Miotti, another Vons employee and a representative from Chiquita Banana toiled feverishly to build the display, and finished about 12 hours later.
Miotti had the idea of building the largest display after talking with Bannister, who has achieved celebrity status as the Banana Man.
"He's been on Jay Leno," Miotti said. "He said he would be willing to come into the store if we made a banana display."
The display is set up to resemble a banana packing center, and is surrounded by real banana trees. A hut thatched with real banana leaves makes up its center.
"It's the most beautiful display I've ever seen," said Bannister, a frequent shopper at the store. "It really is the world's biggest banana display."
"We have a television set in the center, and we're playing 50s music," Miotti said.
And it's big, measuring about 40 feet long, 35 feet deep and about 8 feet high. "I've got a big display space in the front of the store," Miotti said. Miotti is using a 500-square-foot seasonal area for the display.
Bannister, a former salesman for Campbell Soup Co., Camden, N.J., said he began the Banana Club in 1972 after noticing the "dull, dreary expressions" of people at industry conventions.
"Our motto is to keep people smiling, in good health and their spirits up," he said.
The first attraction of the Pavilions display is the size and intricacy, Bannister said. But shoppers' eyes immediately move toward the price. Bananas sold at 5 pounds for a dollar during the weekend festivities.