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Netflix's 'Arrested Development' Puts Money in the Banana Stand, Literally

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The show's promotional banana stands attracted long lines in major cities, which made us wonder: Could the frozen banana become a mass market product?

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"There's always money in the banana stand."

It's one of the most famous lines from Arrested Development, a show that Fox (NASDAQ:NWSA) canceled seven years ago after three seasons of rave reviews but poor viewership. Now, after gaining momentum and the popularity it deserved all those years back, with many fans discovering the show via online streaming options and DVD, the show is making a triumphant return with a fourth season of 15 episodes on Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX).

At the center of the program is the Bluth family, headed by George Bluth Senior, played by Jeffrey Tambor. In the first episode of the series, George Senior is arrested by the SEC for shady business dealing. In an early episode, his son Michael, played by Jason Bateman, goes to George Senior with money troubles, asking if there are any accounts that could be used to help the family and business through a cash crunch. By means of advice, George gives a coded response: "There's always money in the banana stand."

The Bluth company happens to own a banana stand on the sunny boardwalk of Balboa Pier in Newport, CA -- where the show is set. Naturally Michael takes George Senior's advice as meaning, use the banana stand to make money (it was, in Arrested Development lore, one of the first ventures of the Bluth Company, built initially in 1953).

Later in the episode, Michael and his son George Michael, played by Michael Cera, burn down the banana stand in an act of defiance and father-son bonding. The next day, George Senior tells Michael that there was literally $250,000 in the walls of the banana stand. So it goes.

That banana stand has become an iconic symbol of the show, so much so that a touring banana stand has been a major part of Arrested Development's marketing campaign leading up to this weekend's Netflix premiere. Last week it was in New York City, where Jason Bateman and Will Arnett, who plays his magician brother Gob, made a surprise visit. This week, the banana stand is in California.

My first frozen banana stand experience, in Times Square. I missed Jason Bateman and Will Arnett by 15 minutes.
I waited in line for a free frozen banana in Times Square, along with hundreds of fans and interested non-fans. When I finally got my frozen banana, it came in an individual package and had a sticker on top that said Bluth's Original Frozen Banana. Beneath the sticker, a label read, Totally Bananas. And so sparked my interest in looking into companies that actually sell frozen bananas.

The History of the Frozen Banana

The first known frozen banana stand, called The Original Frozen Banana, was opened by Don Phillips on Balboa Peninsula in Orange County, California, circa 1940. And yes, the fictional Bluth banana stand is also on Balboa Peninsula. Before this, the history of the frozen banana is unclear, though Phillips may have first heard about the idea at the 1933 World's Fair in Chicago.

In 1963, an enterprising businessman named Bob Teller moved to Orange County with the intention of building a plant to manufacture car seat belts, but instead, inspired by the success of The Original Frozen Banana, opened his own banana stand across the street, the Original Banana Rolla Rama (in one episode of Arrested Development, Gob opens his own banana stand across the boardwalk from the family's Bluth Banana). When Don Phillips passed away, Bob Teller acquired his stand and expanded. To this day, the frozen banana is a distinct tradition on Balboa Island.

However, there are a few national companies that produce frozen banana products, and I wonder if Arrested Development's success might inspire even more companies to follow suit.

Frozen Banana Companies

Totally Bananas is the company that was lucky enough to have its bananas featured in Arrested Development's marketing ploy and its product was delicious -- you might even say it was delightfully ahh-peeling. The company sells its banana treats to convenience stores, pharmacies, movie theaters, zoos, restaurants, and more, mostly in Florida and the Northeast. (Find a store that sells Totally Bananas products with the company's store finder.)

Diana's Bananas is the company behind Banana Babies, a frozen banana product you may have seen in your grocery store's freezer aisle. It was started in the mid-'80s by Bob Carmody, an entrepreneur who had opened a stand at The Taste of Chicago, an annual open-air food festival. Today, the company's products are sold in grocery stores, pharmacies, and convenience stores nationwide. They also have a store finder.

Debuting earlier this year, Dole's (NYSE:DOLE) Banana Dippers represent the frozen banana's continued progress into mass market appeal. Sold as banana slices covered in dark chocolate rather than the whole fruit, the product is branded as a healthy, natural, delicious dessert or snack. And though it doesn't have its own frozen banana product, Chiquita (NYSE:CQB) features a recipe for the specialty dessert on its website.

The question is, were those massive lines for frozen bananas indicative of a growing consumer interest in the product? Or were people just excited about the return of Arrested Development? If those throngs of folks were like me, it was more of the latter, but I will admit, that banana was delicious.

Follow me on Twitter: @JoshWolonick and @Minyanville
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