7-Eleven knows one thing that drives customers bananas: brown bananas wilting on the counter next to the cashier writes USA Today.

So, today, the nation’s largest convenience store chain will test at 27 Dallas-area locations a new plastic wrap developed by supplier Fresh Del Monte Produce to keep single bananas yellow and firm for five days – more than double the two-day shelf life for an unwrapped banana.

If it’s a success, 7-Eleven could roll out plastic-wrapped bananas to most of its 5,787 stores by early 2010.

Fresh Del Monte created the wrap, which slows respiration by keeping most oxygen and moisture out. The bananas, green when wrapped, will ripen more slowly.

For 7-Eleven, which is increasingly dependent on fresh food sales as cigarette sales spiral downward, this is no small matter. The chain will sell more than 27 million bananas this year.

Folks who walk in for milk or a banana are critical customers the chain cannot afford to disappoint with fruit that looks like grocery store rejects.

Selling yellow – not brown – bananas “is one small example of what we need to do to reinvent ourselves,” DePinto says.

The move would give the chain a competitive advantage, says Dean Dirks, a consultant in the $623 billion convenience store industry. “That’s why just about everyone in business stays away from fresh fruit at the counter.”

Photo by USA Today.