Joe doesn’t mess around with produce scales.
The fruits and vegetables at Trader Joe’s are sold per piece or in prepackaged units — and not by the pound, like most other grocery stores. But nowhere is this more apparent than at the banana display, which is often accompanied by a sign advertising Joe’s by-the-banana policy.
You want a banana? That’ll be 19 cents. A bigger banana? Also 19 cents. A slightly smaller banana, perfect for a midday snack? No discounts here, bub — the price is 19 cents, no exceptions. (Unless, of course, you choose an organic banana, which sells for 25 cents.)
The per-piece pricing policy streamlines the shopping experience for customers and checkout clerks, neither of whom need to bother with scales. But this banana-buying process wasn’t always so straightforward, at least not for customers seeking a single piece of fruit.
In a 2018 edition of the “Inside Trader Joe’s” podcast, chairman and CEO Dan Bane explained that Trader Joe’s used to sell bananas by the pound, albeit in prepackaged baggies that contained four or more bananas. In other words, you couldn’t rip open the baggies and buy just one or two bananas, seeing as there weren’t any scales in the store to determine the correct pricing.
One day, Bane said he was working in one of the California locations when he observed a “nice little lady” — likely from a nearby retirement community — who spent a few moments looking over the banana baggies before deciding she didn’t want any.
“So I asked her, I said, ‘Ma’am, if you don’t mind me asking, I saw you looking at the bananas but you didn’t, you didn’t put anything in your cart,’” Bane recalled.
“And she says to me, ‘Sonny … Sonny, I may not live to that fourth banana.”
Bane then claimed that Trader Joe’s made the decision to switch over to individually priced bananas “the next day.”
Interestingly enough, while Trader Joe’s always balked at the idea of scales for weighing and measuring produce, its stores used to sell another seemingly straightforward item — made-to-order sandwiches — by the inch. It’s not a completely foreign concept (a spokesperson for Trader Joe’s noted that many sandwich shops sell 4-inch, 6-inch or 12-inch sandwiches), but the idea appeared to baffle some of Trader Joe’s own execs long after the deli counters were ditched.
“I always wondered, like, did someone say, ‘Give me an inch long ham on rye?’” asked Matt Sloan, the vice president of marketing product, on that same podcast episode.