Bananas still number one

Australian Bananas’ new marketing program launched in September with the latest research showing volume growth but some softness in retail pricing. Rhyll Cronin reports.

Bananas have retained their status as Australia’s number one fruit in 2015, according to the latest market research.

Figures from research group Nielsen’s Quarterly Brand Health Report show bananas were Australia’s biggest selling fruit, in terms of kilograms sold, with market share steady at 21.8 per cent.

The strongest challengers to bananas in the market share stakes were the second and third ranked sellers on a per-kilogram basis, apples (17.9 per cent, up from 17.4 per cent) and citrus (13.5 per cent, up from 13.1 per cent).

In a competitive market, there were some market share falls for the smaller-volume categories of melons, and grapes. Gains were made by berries (5 per cent, up from 4.9 per cent) and stone fruit (8 per cent up from 7.5 per cent).

Reflecting the industry’s higher production levels in the 2015 calendar year, retail banana volumes increased by 4 per cent. The volume growth was not matched by the growth achieved in the category’s retail value – it lifted only 1 per cent, indicating some lower retail prices during the year

Other research figures also indicated there were lower retail prices in the market. Purchasing research showed buyers were able to increase the average amount of bananas bought each shopping trip but pay less for them.

Banana consumers

The research also provides insights into banana consumers and their buying habits and the potential scope for further growth in banana sales.

Opportunities include increasing sales to the consumers classified as “medium” and “heavy” banana buyers – the 47.1 per cent of buyers who collectively purchase 79.1 per cent of total volumes.

There is also scope to sell more bananas to the 52.9 per cent of existing banana consumers classified as “light” buyers because they purchase the fruit less than once-a-fortnight on average.

While they are the biggest single group of buyers, representing just over half of all banana consumers, they currently purchase only 20.9 per cent of all banana volumes.

Of the bigger buyers, about a quarter of all banana buyers are the “heavies”, snapping up 56.7 per cent of all bananas purchased. On average they buy bananas 31 times a year but half of them buy more than 41 times.

Medium buyers purchase between 20 to 30 times a year – the top third of the group buying bananas more than 25 times a year, or about once a fortnight.

Getting heavy

The research showed there were slightly more “heavy” buyers in the market during 2015 (26.5 percent compared with 26.3 percent), fewer “medium” buyers (20.6 percent, down from 21 per cent) and more “light” buyers (52.9 per cent, up from the previous 52.8 per cent).

The findings support the objectives of the current Australian Bananas marketing campaign (see separate story) which is focusing on increasing the volume of banana sales. The campaign encourages existing banana consumers to eat bananas more frequently during the day and throughout the week.

Highlights from the research include that an increase in the frequency of banana purchases by all banana buyers already became evident in 2015 thanks to a second-half increase.

The frequency that consumers buy bananas lifted to 22.1 times each year, up from 22 times the previous year and ahead of the target of 21.7.

The research also looked at two major market segments – young “pre family” adults, known as “young transitionals” and two sorts of family groups identified as “start-ups”, who have a younger child or children, and “small scale” families.

Of the segments analysed, family groups led the trend for more frequent purchases. They made an average of 24 purchases a year – just less than once a fortnight. The result was ahead of the previous year’s 23.6 times and the target of 23.4 times.

The young transitionals also increased their frequency of banana purchases, to 17.4 times a year, up from the previous 16.9 but just below the targeted result of 17.6. The group remains the less frequent banana consumers – buying about once every three weeks.

The figures showed the increase in total shopping frequency had lagged in the first two quarters of the 2015 calendar year but lifted in the final two to deliver an overall higher annual result.

Per-kg buys up

Research into the volumes of bananas bought in each shop showed the average purchased increased slightly to 820 grams from the previous year’s 810 grams.

Among other targets, the banana industry met its Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for 2015 for overall market penetration, with bananas found to be bought by 93.5 per cent of households, up from the previous 93.3 per cent.

Data also showed what appeared to be a strong correlation between banana retail prices and penetration into the lower-banana-consuming young transitional households. Some retail price sensitivity was evident with price peaks coinciding with lower penetration levels while lower prices coincided with higher penetration.

Data for family group purchases seemed to be more stable and less affected by price movements.

The purchase/pricing data showed consumers paid an average retail price of $2.77 for the average buy of 820 grams of bananas ($3.37 per kilogram), when in the previous year they had paid $2.82 for 810 grams ($3.48 per kilogram).

An analysis across States and Territories (except Tasmania) showed the nation’s largest banana consuming region in terms of total volumes sold, New South Wales, had a fall in the average volume of bananas purchased at 17.61kilograms per buyer, down from 17.92 kilograms a year earlier. All other states and territories researched increased their per-buyer volumes.