Banana vending machines prove fruitful innovation

bananas

Sometimes it’s the seemingly obvious solutions that have the best market cut-through.

Mackay’s Bananas is a family business in its fourth generation, going since 1945 and based in Tully, North Queensland.

Mike Evans told Dynamic Business that Mackay’s has always had a strong interest in innovative ways of getting their product to consumers.

“Our thinking is that if we can understand more about our consumers, we could them present them with more ways of obtaining healthy fruit options,” Evans said.

The idea to start stocking their products in vending machines, of which there are now five dotted throughout Brisbane, was two years in the making.

“We started noticing how often consumers asked ‘why are bananas so big?’ So we did some research, and what we found was people were looking for a smaller banana. There were also benefits to growing smaller bananas – for example, they use less fertiliser – and what we actually ended up with was a sweeter tasting, smoother textured banana, which we then called the ‘smart banana’,” Evans said.

Following the strong response to the smart banana, Mackay’s then undertook further research in Brisbane and Sydney by square blocks to work our how many bananas were actually for sale at lunchtime.

For an average CBD block with 15,000 people, they found there were thousands of snack options, but healthy options like fruit, and namely bananas, were not readily available. In fact, their research found that on average there were just 67 bananas available for sale per city block.

The banana vending machines were born from a strong market research phase, and so far is proving to be a success, with the first rolled out in August this year.

“There’s actually many benefits to selling bananas in vending machines, like temperature control. So the whole concept is that we don’t ever want the fruit to be over-ripe, or under-ripe,” Evans said. “So every time a consumer buys a banana, it will be in perfect condition, and the bananas get rotated every two days.”

The machines are serviced every day to make sure the fruit is in good condition – then it’s all replaced every second day, and the unsold fruit is donated to various food banks.

As to whether there’s scope for other growers to sell fruit in this way, Evans believes there is. But there’s more to the story that just saying the vending machine concept works.

“It’s also about understanding what a consumer is after, because in the beginning we didn’t know it was going to be so successful.”