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Gone Bananas

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If you buy bananas at all--and evidence suggests you probably do--you probably tend to pick them up and stick them in your shopping basket without really noticing the price. Bananas are grocery store staples, like bleach and toilet paper.

In fact, so many people bought bananas last week that they outweighed every other fruit or vegetable that moved through the giant Los Angeles Terminal Market, the central clearinghouse for produce in Southern California.

To be exact, 1,658,000 pounds of bananas went through the market last week--three times the number of grapes, twice as much as iceberg lettuce, more than even tomatoes.

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And you can bet that few of the people who ended up buying them realized that bananas have almost doubled in price since last year. From an average wholesale price of $7 to $8 per 40-pound case in June, bananas are now selling for $11 to $13 per case, with some lots as high as $16.

Of course, a little basic math gives you one reason few have noticed: Even at their highest price, bananas fetch a wholesale price of just 40 cents a pound.

An even bigger reason is that since bananas are such a staple, many grocery store chains sign long-term contracts guaranteeing them a stable year-round price. That’s why a spot check of prices around town showed most prices in the 45- to 55-cent per pound range with a couple of specials at 39 cents.

What’s with the price increase? Importers blame a combination of bad weather in Guatemala and Honduras and labor unrest in Colombia and say they expect prices to return to normal in the next couple of weeks.

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