A little knowledge will go a long way in marketing tropical produce, even in capricious economic times, suppliers say.
“In a down economy, real estate has become more affordable, and we are now seeing a big growth of independent ethnic markets, which tend to be the biggest movers of tropical items,” said grower-shipper Chris Ciruli, a partner in Ciruli Bros, Rio Rico, Ariz.
The category has fared well regardless of the prevailing economic landscape, said Gary Clevenger, managing member and co-founder of Oxnard, Calif.-based Freska Produce International LLC.
Some tropical items, such as mangoes, are competitive with any other produce item, he said.
“Mangoes are not an overly expensive fruit, and in fact they are quite a value for the most part of the year and have been growing in consumption per capita and f.o.b. values at the same time,” Clevenger said.
Larry Nienkerk, a partner in and general manager of Splendid Products LLC, Burlingame, Calif., agreed.
“Mangoes are generally quite cheap most of the year. It’s a great value, and it would be an ability to see what a value it is if you could sell by the pound,” he said.
That is evidence that marketing efforts have worked and the tropical category is growing steadily, Clevenger said.
The tropical category continues to experience rapid and consistent growth despite economic shifts, said Jose Rossignoli, category general manager for Robinson Fresh , a division of Eden Prairie, Minn.-based C.H. Robinson Worldwide Inc.
“Robinson Fresh’s value proposition is a holistic approach and brings customers supply chain solutions that meet their specific needs,” he said.
Tropicals sometimes often are mischaracterized as pricier than more mainstream produce items, said Isabel Freeland, vice president of Nogales, Ariz.-based Coast Citrus Distributors LLC.
She said “more exotic fruit” might be more expensive, but many items, such as pineapple, mangoes, limes and papayas, go up and down based more on supplies available than any other factor.
“With all the new research that have come out on items like avocados and mangoes, the healthy consumers want more of it,” Freeland said.
Mary Ostlund, marketing director for Homestead, Fla.-based Brooks Tropicals Inc., said availability isn’t a problem for many tropical items and, that helps keep prices affordable to consumers.
“Many tropicals have burst through the specialty category and have gone mainstream,” she said.
Many consumers will buy tropicals regardless of economic circumstances, said Michael Warren, president of Pompano Beach, Fla.-based Central American Produce Inc.
“Anybody that understands it from a cultural point of view will buy it despite what the economy is,” he said.
Cherry Hill, N.J.-based Amazon Produce Network focuses most of its efforts in the tropicals category on mangoes, so economic factors generally aren’t a concern, said Greg Golden, a partner and sales manager.
“Mangoes are not particularly expensive item,” he said.
Other tropical items are more prone to capricious pricing, he said.
“It’s not like limes, which saw a high of $120 for a 40-pound box back in March and April, and now you can get them for $5 or $6,” Golden said.
Low volumes were the culprit behind the price spike in the spring, he said.
“There was no supply — just some weather that caused a gap in production and the market went absolutely berserk,” Golden said.
The situation offered some valuable lessons, though, Golden said.
Sales continue to rise at Los Alamitos, Calif.-based Frieda’s Inc., said Karen Caplan, CEO.
“Interestingly, our sales are booming. We’ve had record sales,” Caplan said.
Frieda’s can’t keep enough supplies to meet all demands, Caplan said.
“We’re always running out of fruit. With the crazy weather, sometimes we don’t get through the week with enough fruit,” she said.
A key to selling tropicals successfully, in good economic times or bad, is effective marketing, Caplan said.
“My philosophy is you can’t sell it if you don’t buy it,” she said. “Our retailer partners who have been putting up decent-sized displays and have all the accoutrements of the varieties really see an increase in impulse sales.”
It also helps to have a choice, said Jessie Capote, owner of J&C Tropicals, Miami.
“If Mexican mangoes are selling for a dollar apiece, and you’re trying to sell Florida mangoes for $2 apiece, you’re certainly going to sell less of it, but there’s a market for it,” he said.
J&C Tropicals also emphasizes locally grown product, which has a number of advantages, including price, he said.
“I think the more educated people get and the more they understand these things, locally grown and things that are grown in proximity are going to taste better,” Capote said.