I needed a professional to diagnose Instacart’s user interface. “Wow, bad,” says e-commerce designer Ian Hatcher-Williams, noting the discrepancy between some product images and the actual item, as well as the inconsistent way of describing bananas (each, bunch, count). “The product title should say what the item is,” he says, adding that both “1 banana” and “1 ct” “both imply…one banana.” Meanwhile at Sam’s Club, one count actually means more than $5 worth of bananas, and at my local Sprouts, one count is three beets. For bananas specifically, Hatcher-Williams suggests Instacart use the words “single” and “bunch” instead of “count” or “each” (which could easily refer to each banana or each bunch) to describe banana quantities. (“We are always making updates and improvements to the Instacart platform to ensure shoppers can easily and accurately shop and deliver orders,” the Instacart spokesperson tells me.)
After staring at hundreds of photos of bananas for far too long, willing them for answers, I started wondering: What even is a bunch of bananas? After talking to a self-described “banana weirdo,” I learned that grocery bananas don’t technically come in bunches at all.
“The popular way we refer to bananas isn’t correct,” says Dan Koeppel, the author of Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World. A bunch technically describes all the bananas grown on one tree—up to 250 individual bananas. Koeppel presents his evidence: The popular song Day-O released by Jamaican artist Harry Belafonte in 1956. “Six foot, seven foot, eight foot bunch,” go the lyrics. The bunches in my local supermarket are half-a-foot tall at best. So what are those yellow clusters called? “A hand,” says Koeppel. “A finger, then, is the individual banana.”
When I emailed a different agricultural historian (who didn’t want to be named because she didn’t feel qualified to discuss the subject), she brought up another, more psychological point: “I will say that I am hesitant to tear two off a larger bunch if there is anyone nearby to witness it,” she says. My anonymous historian instead hunts for a bundled pair of bananas while shopping for her weekly two. Koeppel says this grocery store faux pas is inadvisable for a reason. “You don’t want people tearing apart banana hands in the market because they’re going to expose a little bit of flesh near the stem and those bananas will go bad much quicker,” he says. “So that’s why they’re sold as hands.” (Instacart doesn’t seem to have qualms, though, based on the app’s suggestion for shoppers to separate bunches.)
Waldron, meanwhile, says the best way users can make sure they end up with the right amount of bananas is to get ahead of the problem: Leave a message for your shopper. “I’d say one out of every 25 customers ever use” the feature, he says. “But there is an option to enter notes under each item.” The Instacart spokesperson encouraged the same. As is the case with many conflicts in life, communication is key.
So, there we have it. I am sorry to report that my bumpy, bending investigation ends here. Perhaps customers aren’t paying enough attention while ordering; perhaps Instacart shoppers are confused too; perhaps the Instacart app could offer more guidance for everyone. Or, perhaps bananas, a historically fickle fruit to categorize, simply transcend material calculuses and human exigencies—such as, well, grocery delivery orders.