Mexican restaurant chain On the Border offers mango-chicken salads on it menu
Mexican restaurant chain On the Border offers mango-chicken salads on it menu

Mangoes are setting the pace for the tropical category in foodservice, according to suppliers.

Chris Ciruli, a partner in Rio Rico, Ariz.-based Ciruli Bros. and Amex Distributing Co., said he isn’t surprised.

He cited the Tony Roma’s steakhouses and On the Border Mexican restaurants as offering their own versions of mango-chicken salads, and Red Mango, a frozen-yogurt chain, for featuring mangoes on its menu.

“The National Mango Board has been working with various chains and media outlets to highlight key nutritional messages and provide menu support,” Ciruli said.

Ciruli said the board had developed menu promotion ideas and a flavor pairing guide for foodservice professionals.

Gary Clevenger, managing member and co-founder of Oxnard, Calif.-based Freska Produce International LLC, also noted mangoes’ increased presence on restaurant menus.

“The foodservice is a growing category for the mango category, as more and more restaurants are featuring a menu item with mangos, and this had driven growth in this category at both the foodservice and retail level,” Clevenger said.

Recipe ideas abound for a versatile fruit, which helps to enhance its menu appeal, Clevenger said.

“As customers try products at the restaurants or smoothie bar, and they like mangos, that equates into a purchase at the retail level to try themselves at home,” he said.

Taste and versatility

There is a strong growth trend toward tropical produce integration into the foodservice industry, due to the taste and versatility of items in the category, said Jose Rossignoli, category general manager for Robinson Fresh, a division of Eden Prairie, Minn.-based C.H. Robinson Worldwide Inc.

“For example, mangoes’ unique flavor profile and various usage options are making this item a much more viable menu item as consumers become more familiar with its flavor,” he said.

Isabel Freeland, vice president of Nogales, Ariz.-based Coast Citrus Distributors, also pointed out the value of versatility in giving mangoes and other tropical items a boost in foodservice sales.

“I have been seeing a tremendous increase in all restaurants using tropicals like mangoes, papayas and avocados in their menus, not only as an entree but as a dessert,” she said.

Keep up the momentum

Increased media exposure has given tropicals an opportunity to find their ways to menus, said Larry Nienkerk, a partner in and general manager of Burlingame, Calif.-based Splendid Products LLC.

“It’s a matter of keeping the pressure, I guess, on the food magazines and TV programs to continually put the fruit in front of food editors, to push the product, and it gets down to chefs creating dishes and so on,” Nienkerk said.

The industry needs to keep that momentum going, Nienkerk said.

“We need to keep our ideas fresh, look for other opportunities for creative ways to market,” he said. “We have a strong sales staff here that’s always trying to innovate and create new opportunities.”

It helps that creative chefs are always looking for new ideas, said Karen Caplan, CEO of Los Alamitos, Calif.-based Frieda’s Inc.

“I think the very high-end white-tablecloth restaurants are putting in almost as decorations some of the tropical fruits,” she said.

Foodservice remains largely unexplored territory for J&C Tropicals, Miami, which has placed a heavy emphasis on the retail sector, said Jessie Capote, owner.

That isn’t to imply that won’t change, he said.

“I’m sure it has huge potential,” he said.

The major challenge in foodservice is distribution, he said.

“You almost have to partner with the Freshpoints and the Syscos of the world,” he said. “If you get restaurants ordering two or three boxes of something, your logisitics are out of whack.”