Why are all fruits round, except bananas

Fruit madness: why bananas from Ecuador are cheaper than apples from Höri

Only 79 cents a kilo? Can this be? Many a banana buyer is currently looking in amazement at the price label that the fruit scale prints out in the supermarket. Because bananas are cheaper than they have been in a long time. How low the price is is noticeable when you continue to shop on the fruit shelf and weigh local Lake Constance apples. Price per kilo: 2.50 euros. How can that be? After all, bananas have a delivery route of around 10,000 kilometers behind them when they come to Germany from Ecuador, Costa Rica or Colombia.

"Actually, that can't be the case, there is currently a blatant pricing policy," says Edith Gmeiner from Fairtrade Germany, an organization for fair trade. And it has only been a few months since the discounter Lidl wanted to put an end to the price war that has been causing poor working and environmental conditions in the banana plantations for years.

Where the idea didn't work

In autumn 2018, Lidl announced that it would only offer bananas with the Fairtrade logo in future. The idea behind it: If the customer only finds the slightly more expensive Fairtrade product in the store and no longer has the choice between bananas with and without a seal, he will also support the Fairtrade idea. The change is now taking place gradually, starting in the markets in southern Germany.

In terms of approach, the idea is good: "We know that everyday purchase decisions are not made carefully, but that customers habitually pick what they have always bought," says Peter Kenning, marketing researcher at Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf. If these goods are no longer available, the customer has to change over - or go to another supermarket.

Because in one decisive point, Lidl's idea did not work: the other large supermarkets did not follow the good example. “It worked a few years ago in the UK and the Netherlands. There are now only Fairtrade bananas in various supermarkets, ”says Edith Gmeiner from Fairtrade Germany. In fact, the opposite has happened in this country: the other supermarkets such as Edeka, Rewe or Aldi are now offering their bananas at competitive prices of sometimes less than 90 cents.

Bananas as a lure

To understand this, you have to know what significance bananas have for a supermarket. "They are a so-called corner item, such as milk or chocolate," says Stephan Rüschen, professor for food trade at the Baden-Württemberg Cooperative State University in Heilbronn. Corner items are foods with which supermarkets lure customers into the shops: because almost everyone needs them, because you have the prices for them roughly in your head and compare them. Once the customer is there, they usually buy other goods as well.

This corner article strategy also applies to other European countries. In Germany, however, there is also the fact that customers are very price-sensitive when it comes to food, and four supermarket chains now share 85 percent of the food market. "That means enormous market power," says Edith Gmeiner from Transfair. How long Lidl can manage to withstand the price pressure on bananas and offer the popular fruit around 10 cents more than the competition is questionable. However, the company is not yet planning to withdraw.

The power of the customer

And the banana has another problem: the hard, poorly paid work on the plantations takes place a long way from Germany. The customer in this country does not see the pesticide planes and the workers, who are mostly exposed to the toxins without appropriate protection. Neither does the destroyed nature. The customer only sees a large mountain of yellow fruit in the supermarket. And he sees the price.

“When Aldi banned cage eggs from the shelves a few years ago, the other supermarkets quickly followed suit because a lot of pictures were shown from chicken farming, the regional proximity was there and customers no longer bought the cage eggs. The banana lacks this empathy, ”says marketing expert Peter Kenning. It would be up to the customer to change this. They would have enough power: after all, the banana is now the most popular fruit among Germans - even ahead of the apple.

Fair trade

12 percent of the bananas sold in Germany are fairly traded. For producers, this means: The fixed minimum prices they get for their bananas are non-negotiable - regardless of the price at which the product is sold in the supermarket. For example, the cooperatively organized banana farmers in Ecuador receive 43 cents for one kilo of fair trade bananas - 22 cents for conventional bananas. Customers who want to support stable minimum prices, fair working conditions and transparent controls can recognize fair trade bananas by the green and blue sticker with the word "Fairtrade". If bananas also have an organic label, organic cultivation is also promoted.

Published in the Economics section