Since our founding in 2015, one of the most common questions we’ve gotten from our customers has been “Why can’t I buy bananas from Imperfect?” While most modern Americans can spell bananas thanks to the hard work of Gwen Stefani, have you ever thought it was odd that we don’t sell them, despite their reputation as the pop stars of the tropical fruit world? Digging into why we don’t sell bananas is one of those simple questions with an enjoyably complicated answer, much like understanding why Fyre Fest failed. So let’s take some time to learn about some of the more fascinating wrinkles of global food supply chains.
Doesn’t Play Well With Others
While they’re convenient and delicious for eaters, bananas are a logistical nightmare for companies to work with. They’re extremely temperature-sensitive and tough to store and ship. They’re also really tricky to plan around. Because of their sensitive ripening schedule, it’s very hard to hold on to excess bananas week to week without them going bad (probably why banana bread was invented!). That means you have to order exactly as many as you’ll sell, which doesn’t fit with our sourcing model and could actually cause us to waste more food during weeks when we didn’t sell through all of our bananas.
Ripe for Disaster
Bananas also make it harder to store and ship everything else. They emit ethylene gas as they ripen, which makes nearby fruits and vegetables ripen and then spoil rapidly. This is why companies that import and ship bananas have entire temperature-controlled rooms separate from the rest of their inventory just to store their bananas. They carefully release ethylene gas in these rooms to control the ripening of the bananas, while employees monitor airflow and rotate bananas daily by color and ripeness. For Imperfect to start carrying bananas, we’d not only have to construct new temperature-controlled rooms within every facility we operate, but we’d also have to hire dozens of people to painstakingly babysit our bananas. Frankly, we’d rather invest our time and energy on groceries that more closely fit our mission.
Hard to Deliver
We’re serious about quality at Imperfect, which is why we think long and hard about a new product before adding it to our lineup to make sure we can deliver it in excellent shape. We did a small pilot to see how bananas would hold up in delivery and, in full transparency, they performed very poorly. We’d rather not carry bananas than deliver you bananas that aren’t up to our high standards and arrive smashed, already halfway to banana bread.
Oh, The Food Miles You’d Travel
We care about food miles and try to avoid them when we can, and the reality is there are no domestically grown bananas. While we occasionally source surplus and imperfect tropical fruits that have already been imported, it doesn’t make sense for our mission to go out of our way to do so, even for a fruit as popular as bananas. Even if we wanted to go the extra mile and import them ourselves, sourcing produce from outside the US would require an import license, which we do not have as a company.
Since we can’t import bananas the only way to sell them to you would be to buy them from an existing importer. We’ve tried to test this multiple times only to discover that imperfect bananas don’t get imported to the United States. That’s right, tragically retail stores have such rigorous specifications on size, shape, color, and curvature for bananas, that importers don’t bother bringing “ugly” bananas into the country because they don’t want to lose money on them. It’s a pretty tragic catch-22 that has us singing “yes, we have no bananas.”
Not Aligned With Our Mission
Simply put, bananas don’t fit with our mission to build a better food system right now. Until we’re in a position to source them sustainably and responsibly, we won’t be joining the fray of buying and selling them for the time being.
We hope this helps answer the million-dollar question of why one of America’s most favorite fruits is conspicuously missing in action at Imperfect Foods. Bananas are so ubiquitous in modern America, available in convenience stores and gas stations, that you’d almost forget they were a rare, fragile, tropical fruit with genetics as perilous as their history is sobering. We believe that knowing more about your favorite grocery items is the best way to make informed choices that align with your values and hope this nerdy tangent into the banana world has done just that for you.