DOVER, Ohio -- Bag-N-Save Foods has become the latest "Top Banana" for creating the the world's largest banana display. The retailer, in this town 35 miles south of Akron, used 1,548 cases of bananas -- weighing nearly 31 tons -- to launch a high-profile promotion that demonstrated how single-store independent operators are succeeding in the face of the consolidated-chain juggernaut.
"Everybody worries how to combat the superstore chains. My viewpoint was, if everybody [here] stays together as a group, we're just as big, or bigger, than anybody else," said Joe Goodwin, Bag-N-Save's can-do produce manager.
The promotion not only provided a lot of publicity, it increased the produce department's contribution to total-store sales to 17%, said Goodwin. What's more, cross merchandising in other departments helped boost their margins, too. In the store's bakery, nearly 200 banana cream pies were sold on the first day of the promotion. Banana nut loaves and banana nut muffins were also heavy sellers.
"You walked in through the front door, and all you could smell was bananas. Bananas everywhere," he added.
The store was assisted by the regional division of its wholesale supplier, Fleming Cos., Oklahoma City, and Caito Foods, Indianapolis, a produce distributor. The bananas themselves were supplied by Dole Fresh Fruit, Westlake Village, Calif.
According to Goodwin, the idea was born only three weeks before the actual event, requiring him and store owners Jim and Cindi Toll to quickly nail down partners. The produce manager said he received enthusiastic support from Sam Groh, a produce specialist from the Fleming division, as well as Phil Caito, the distributor.
Both companies knew Goodwin was serious -- his department had already won Caito Foods' own "Banana King" contest, and Bag-N-Save was awarded second place during a Fleming-sponsored one-day produce sale competition this past summer.
"It's great to get this kind of cooperation from management and suppliers," said Goodwin. "And the whole thing takes on a life of its own. It puts everybody in a great mood because it's so much fun, and I got to work with people I really respect."
To mount the challenge, Goodwin and a team from Fleming and Caito worked around the clock for three days preparing the 20,000-square-foot department to accommodate so many bananas. The crew set up six large Euro-tables and began the laborious task of stacking bunches of bananas, which Caito had specially gassed to regulate ripening. According to Goodwin, about 60% of the bunches were brought in at stage two, and the rest -- set further inside the display -- were set at the pale stage.
The arrangement was built around air tunnels and ventilation fans placed under and through the display. During the promotion, the bunches were rotated to bring the ripest product closest to customers, he said.
But the initiative went way beyond constructing a simple huge display -- Goodwin wanted to make a real big splash as an independent store. So, there were extras -- specifically, a nearly life-size bamboo hut on stilts and a trio of lifelike mechanical apes that played musical instruments and sang. Goodwin already had the hut from Caito Foods, and the store rented the monkeys (which will now be purchased and used for future promotions, he said).
On the display's inaugural day, the monkey band played and sang nonstop as customers visited the spectacle, and picked up bananas on sale for 10 cents a pound. The event was specifically launched on a Tuesday because that's the day the fruit is regularly on sale, for 17 cents a pound.
While produce department contests are nothing new, bananas seem to have emerged this year as the commodity of choice among retailers, who've announced a string of record-setting banana-display events just this year alone. The most recent champion was an Auchon Hypermarket unit in Houston, which created a display of 1,200 boxes. The title is becoming so coveted, however, that each ensuing champion retains the title for what seems to be less time. Auchon held the title for only two months before Bag-N-Save's effort snatched it away.
Behind it all are the two large banana companies, Dole Fresh Fruit and Chiquita Banana, who have helped to instigate this good-natured competition among retailers over the past year, by supplying product for the efforts.