FOOD

Amazon cornering banana market in Seattle; giving out about 8,000 per day

Amazon.com Inc. has transformed businesses including retailing, filmmaking and data storage. But no one anticipated the bananas.

It started with a brainstorm from founder and CEO Jeff Bezos that Amazon should offer everyone near its headquarters—not just employees—healthy, eco-friendly snacks as a public service. After considering oranges, Amazon picked bananas, and opened its first Community Banana Stand in late 2015.

It has since expanded to two stands on its corporate campus, which sprawls across several blocks in downtown Seattle, and says it has given out more than 1.7 million free bananas.

The response has been split. Most Amazonians like them. Other workers say it is now hard to find bananas in stock at nearby grocery stores. And some eateries in a two-block radius of the stands are feeling squished.

Anar, a vegetarian cafe next door to Amazon’s banana stand, slashed purchases of bananas, which it offers sliced as a yogurt topping for $1, because customers are ordering them less. Manager Hadley Jouflas suspects many grab a free Amazon banana to top off takeout orders.

The cafe has sought instead to change its banana strategy, including featuring a banana-based vegan eggnog and a chocolate banana drink—both hits.

At Local Public Eatery, a restaurant next to the original banana stand, customers have slipped up on their manners. “It’s very common for them to have bananas when they come in for lunch,” says Sam Brown, a manager. Typically, “they eat it at their table,” along with whatever food they order. About three to four whole bananas are left behind each day, and they bus away even more peels.

Carly Knox, the manager at Jujubeet, a juice bar five minutes by foot from the original stand, says people jokingly ask if the bananas are free. “Unfortunately, we cannot give those out as freebies,” she says. In this case, the “Arrested Development” line that many Amazon fruit patrons quote just isn’t true: “There’s always money in the banana stand!”

“Banistas” oversee the wooden cart operation, stacking up a selection of fruit, which range from green to bright yellow, as fast as passersby can take them. They move about 8,000 a day, Monday through Friday, at the two stands, according to Amazon. Eric Mountcastle, who was promoted last year from front desk receptionist to “bananager” and team leader, keeps a spreadsheet tracking demand.

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