When was the last time you bought produce at a gas station? We thought so.

Convenience store giant 7-Eleven is trying to change that. The company just launched a project to make sure aging bananas don’t turn brown and mushy on its shelves. Never mind that 7-Eleven is better known for selling Slurpees and chips. In an effort to spur produce sales, the chain is now selling individual plastic-wrapped bananas that stay fresh longer.

So far, the concept is being tested out 27 Dallas-area stores, but if all goes well, 7-Eleven could roll out the idea in most of its 5,787 locations by 2010, USA Today reported.   

But some say it’s a slap in the face to Mother Nature’s own wrapper: the banana peel.

"More plastic packaging is not a sustainable solution," said Jenny Powers, a spokeswoman for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "There are better ways than adding a plastic wrapper around something that comes naturally wrapped in the first place."

Because of the environmental concern, 7-Eleven said it has asked produce distributer Fresh Del Monte to develop a biodegradable wrapper for the bananas. Marketing folks say sustainable packaging is in the works. They also pointed out that by extending the shelf life of produce, they can cut the carbon footprint by reducing the number of store deliveries.

Indeed, the new plastic wrapper promises to keep single bananas fresh for five days. (That’s more than double the typical two-day shelf life for bananas, which can quickly turn brown and mushy languishing on the shelf.) The wrappers slow respiration by keeping oxygen and moisture out, so bananas that are green when wrapped will ripen more slowly.

Fresh Del Monte is also working on a new fruit vending machine that it hopes to introduce to stores in the Southeast.

Store executives say they’re meeting the needs of customers, who want to buy fresh produce at convenience stores. But it’s clearly also a smart business move for the convenience store chain, which has become more dependent on food sales in recent years.

Selling fresh fruit is a competitive advantage in the $623 billion convenience store industry, consultants say. Indeed, 7-Eleven will sell 27 million bananas this year.

Now how do you like them bananas? 

How do you like them bananas?
7-Eleven is selling plastic-wrapped bananas that stay fresh longer. Is the convenience store chain slapping Mother Nature in the face?