Mangoes and kiwifruit continue to dominate the tropical fruit marketplace, accounting for nearly 60% of sales in the category and showing double-digit increases in 2011, according to the Nielsen Perishables Group, West Dundee, Ill.

Mangoes represented about 40% of tropical fruit sales, compared to about 37% a year earlier. Next was kiwifruit, at about 18%, compared to 17% in the previous year. Add papaya’s nearly 12% share, and that’s about 70% of tropical fruit sales.

Other fruits, such as pomegranates, tomatillos, dates, coconuts, figs and star fruit, all logged market shares of less than 10%.

A list of fruit that includes guava, cactus pear, tamarindo, kiwano melon, cherimoya, sapote, passion fruit and quince combined for less than 2% of sales.

Many such items are found mostly in Hispanic and Asian markets, and a key to growing sales of those items is exposing other cultures to them, said Steve Lutz, executive vice president of the Nielsen Perishables Group.

“I think the bigger opportunity is really understanding where the opportunities are outside that Hispanic demographic and (to) identify stores that have potentially high-consumption households because they’re households that are oriented toward experimenting with fruit,” he said.

Targeted research can identify the most profit potential for niche items, Lutz said.

“The benefit of that is, rather than trying to put all resources against all stores, it really allows the marketers to focus on selected stores and stretch their marketing dollars,” he said.

Some stores are doing that, said Mike Patterson, produce director with Rockville, Md.-based retail chain Magruder Inc., which has stores around the Washington, D.C., area.

“We sell roughly 10-20 cases of an item like star fruit in a week,” Patterson said.

Results are generally mixed, he said.

“I won’t say it does really well, but we just have a certain amount of movement,” he said.

Tomatillos, which logged about $15.5 million in sales a year ago, according to Nielsen, have a Hispanic-dominant clientele, but nontraditional customers are discovering them, said Charlie Eagle, vice president of business development with Pompano Beach, Fla.-based Southern Specialties.

“The key is exposing people to all the flavors, letting know how they can be prepared and letting them know when they can use them,” Eagle said.

Other items have made that jump, said Mary Ostlund, marketing director for Homestead, Fla.-based Brooks Tropicals Inc.

“Don’t forget that papayas weren’t even on the board not long ago,” Ostlund said.

There are other up-and-comers in the category, said Marc Holbik, chief executive officer with Medley, Fla.-based Ecoripe Tropicals.

“Rambutan is becoming one of our strongest products, increasing exponentially over the last four years or so,” he said.

Ecoripe Tropicals carries rambutan from May to November, he said.

Getting as much information as possible out on niche items is the most important step marketers can take to boost sales, said Alex Jackson, communications coordinator with Frieda’s Inc., Los Alamitos, Calif.

“Signs should include flavor, usage, and storage, and retailers (should) create a colorful display with variety,” she said.

Offering product samples could lead to more sales, Jackson said.

“Eventually, you convert them into regular tropical fruit buyers,” she said.