Banania is a popular chocolate drink found most widely distributed in France. It is made from cocoa, banana flour, cereals, honey and sugar. There are two types of Banania available in French supermarkets: 'traditional' which must be cooked with milk for 10 minutes, and 'instant' which can be prepared in similar fashion to Nesquik.
During a visit near Lake Managua, Nicaragua in 1909, the journalist Pierre Lardet discovered the recipe for a cocoa-based drink. When he returned to Paris, he started its commercial fabrication and, in 1912, began marketing Banania with the picture of an Antillaise. Her image was replaced in 1915 with the drawing of a widely smiling Senegalese man.
At the outset of World War I, the popularity of the colonial troops at the time led to the replacement of the West Indian by the now more familiar jolly Senegalese infantry man enjoying Banania. Pierre Lardet took it upon himself to distribute the product to the Army, using the line pour nos soldats la nourriture abondante qui se conserve sous le moindre volume possible ("for our soldiers: the abundant food which keeps, using the least possible space").
The brand's yellow background underlines the banana ingredient, and the Senagalese infantryman's red and blue uniform make up the other two main colours. The slogan Y'a bon ("It's good") derives from the pidgin French supposedly used by these soldiers (it is, in fact, an invention). Slowly but surely, the slogan and the character became inseparable as the expression was coined: l'ami y'a bon ("the y'a bon buddy").
The form of the character has since evolved to more of a cartoon character. However, the original advertising has become a cultural icon in France. Posters and reproduction tin-plate signs of the pre-war advertising continue to be sold.
In the 1970s and early 1980s, Banania sponsored the Yellow Jersey of the Tour de France. In France the Banania brand is now owned by the newly founded French company Nutrial, which acquired it from Unilever in 2003.
The advertising slogans and images have been labelled racist and colonialist by some who argue that it reinforces the old cliché of a friendly yet stupid African. Some French black people connect this stereotype with aggressive colonialist policy in Africa of the global group Unilever, the old unique owner of the brand. The Martiniquan psychiatrist and philosopher Frantz Fanon, in his 1952 book Black Skin, White Masks, mentions the grinning Senegalese tirailleur as an example of how in a burgeoning consumer culture, the Negro appears not only as an object, but as "an object in the midst of other objects".
- Brett A. Berliner. Ambivalent Desire: The Exotic Black in Jazz-Age France Pages 10–17. (University of Massachusetts Press, 2002) ISBN 1-55849-356-5
- Chervenka, Mark (2003). Antique Trader Guide to Fakes & Reproductions. Krause Publications. ISBN 087349590X.
- Hinrichsen, Malte (2012). Racist Trademarks: Slavery, Orient, Colonialism and Commodity Culture. LIT Verlag Münster. ISBN 9783643902856.
- Frantz Fanon. Black Skin, White Masks, trans. Charles Lam Marckmann Page 109. (Pluto Press, 1986)