The tropical fruit category is fast becoming a foodservice favorite.
“We’re seeing tropicals — at least mangoes — becoming more popular in foodservice operations than they have been in the past,” said Charlie Eagle, vice president of business development for Southern Specialties Inc., Pompano Beach, Fla.
Chefs like mangoes because the fruit has excellent flavor and color, good nutritional value, and they’re available year-round, he said.
Papayas, too, are making foodservice inroads, said Homero Levy De Barros, president and chief executive officer at HLB Specialties LLC, Pompano Beach, Fla.
He sees papayas in sauces and in refreshing desserts like cream of papaya, made by combining papaya with vanilla ice cream and creme de cassis liqueur.
“You can eat papaya in many different ways,” he said, because they have a mild taste that blends in well with many dishes.
They can be served at breakfast, cubed in salads or even used as a bowl stuffed with cottage cheese and granola.
They also contain an enzyme that helps digestion, he said.
Foodservice business has been consistent, said Isabel Freeland, vice president of Coast Citrus Distributors Inc., San Diego, which sells a number of items to Chipotle Grill restaurants.
Limes seem to be showing especially strong growth at foodservice, she said.
They’ve become a foodservice staple, Eagle said.
“They’re a constant inventory item.”
Some tropical specialties also have become a hit with foodservice operators, he said.
“(Star fruit) has been an excellent part of our foodservice repertoire because chefs recognize the uniqueness of the fruit,” Eagle said.
The Orlando, Fla.-based National Mango Board uses foodservice media to communicate with chefs and share mango usage suggestions, said Megan McKenna, director of marketing.
The board also makes contact directly with chefs and foodservice operators to help them get more fresh mangoes on their menus, she said.
The board maintains relationships with restaurant chains, conducts promotions with two to four chains annually and offers support, such as customized menu concept development and recipe development.
In 2011, the mango board issued six news releases, conducted a photo shoot to highlight chefs’ use of mangoes on menus and participated in the International Foodservice Editorial Conference, which included a mango product placement sponsorship.
The mango board’s efforts seem to be paying off, because Eagle said he now sees mangoes showing up not only in traditional dishes like relishes and salsas but with seafood, pork and chicken dishes, as well.
“We’re seeing more and more demand for it,” he said.
The biggest challenge has been lack of knowledge about how to handle mangoes, including peeling them and dealing with the big seed inside.
“It’s somewhat labor intensive,” he said.