The world's two most popular things

Cover for Bloomberg BusinessWeek's "The Popularity Issue"

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Stacey Vanek-Smith: Facebook frenemies, apparently that's how a lot of users feel. In a customer satisfaction survey by ForeSee Results, the social networking site ranked near the bottom. Those mixed feelings haven't exactly hurt Facebook's popularity though. At last count, the site had more than half-a-billion users. And when it comes to products, that's what counts. Right?

Popularity is the topic of Bloomberg BusinessWeek's current issue. The magazine explores how much we like everything from breakfast cereal to car colors. Hugo Lindgren is the executive editor of Bloomberg BusinessWeek. He joins us now to talk popularity. Good morning, Hugo.

Hugo Lindgren: Good morning.

Vanek-Smith: Hugo, how do you measure the popularity of these various things?

Lindgren: Well, some things were very easy to determine, like the worldwide tourist destination. There are very good numbers by an international body, U.N. world of tourism organization. And so we were able to determine without too much doubt that France was the most popular tourist destination. In other areas, for example, when we did sort of a country by country comparison across a whole bunch of categories -- everything from sort of TV show to brand of beer to children's names -- in a bunch of those, like every country's reporting mechanisms were slightly different. And we also had to account for things like the fact that "Avatar" did not come out in every country at the exact same time. So although "Avatar" did blow all box offices everywhere, in fact everywhere. In the 11 countries we surveyed, "Avatar" was the number one ranked movie. I'd say the two things that are the most popular in the world are "Avatar" and bananas.

Vanek-Smith: And bananas?

Lindgren: Bananas, yeah. So bananas are the number one selling item at Wal-Mart, which is the largest retailer in the world, $400 billion worth of sales. Wal-Mart sells more bananas than it sells of anything else. And bananas, we were shocked to discover, there are 91 metric tons of bananas grown each year. And if you divide that up into individual bananas, it comes out to 170 bananas per capita.

Vanek-Smith: Was there any idea why bananas were so wildly popular? I mean "Avatar" I get. There was a big marketing campaign behind "Avatar." Bananas, maybe not so much.

Lindgren: I think the thing about bananas is that as a produce they ship really well, they last well, they're grown in a lot of countries where there aren't a lot of other food options.

Vanek-Smith: What is the economic importance of popularity?

Lindgren: The truth is that, depending on what is, that popularity doesn't necessarily mean profits.

Vanek-Smith: Hugo Lindgren is the executive editor of Bloomberg BusinessWeek. The popularity issue is on newsstands now. And I'm assuming it's very popular?

Lindgren: We hope so. Yeah, we expect so.

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