This Is Why Trader Joe's Bananas Cost Just 19 Cents Apiece

This Is Why Trader Joe's Bananas Cost Just 19 Cents Apiece

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Elizabeth Licata
May 4, 2018
(Image credit: ablokhin/Getty Images)

The new podcast from Trader Joe's, "Inside Trader Joe's," is surprisingly fascinating. I wasn't expecting to get into a podcast about a grocery store (I normally prefer the riveting world of listening to people play Dungeons and Dragons online), but "Inside Trader Joe's" keeps answering questions I didn't know I had.

If you've ever wondered what it means when bells ring in the store, or why bananas are sold individually, you're not alone.

What does it mean when bells ring in the store?

According to the folks behind "Inside Trader Joe's," apparently Trader Joe's did not like the way PA announcements sounded over the speakers in other grocery stores, so they started ringing bells to communicate with each other.

If you hear two bells ring, it means a customer has a question and someone needs to come to the checkout area to answer it. If you hear three bells, a manager is being summoned. If you hear one bell ring, it means an angel has gotten its wings. (Also, it means someone should come open another register.)

The story behind the banana pricing at Trader Joe's is fascinating, though, and a little bit morbid.

Why do bananas cost 19 cents apiece?

Most grocery stores sell bananas by weight, and if you need just one or two bananas, you take off as many as you want and weigh them. In the first episode of Inside Trader Joe's, CEO Dan Bane said Trader Joe's used to sell bananas by the pound, too. But they didn't have scales in stores, so the bananas were weighed and packaged before being put on display. That meant the bananas were offered in bags of four or five, and if you just wanted one or two, you couldn't open them up and take out the ones you wanted.

Then one day Bane was at a Trader Joe's in Sun City, California, which is near a retirement center. He saw an older woman buying fruit, but she bypassed the banana bags.

"So I asked her, 'Ma'am, if you don't mind me asking, I saw you looking at the bananas but you didn't put anything in your cart,'" Bane said. "And she says to me, 'Sonny, I may not live to that fourth banana.'"

Bane said they decided the very next day that Trader Joe's had to sell individual bananas. They priced them at 19 cents apiece, and they've been priced like that for the past 13 years.

That lady did us all a favor, too! No one wants to buy too many bananas. That'd be like buying too many avocados. With the way bananas ripen, if you buy too many, some of them will definitely be overripe by the time you get to them.

Have you been listening to the "Inside Trader Joe's" podcast?

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