ANTIGUA, Guatemala — Although Guatemala’s share of the mangoes shipped in the U.S. is but a fraction of the overall amount — about 30 million pounds of the 721 million pounds last season — there’s little doubt the country has seen the benefits of mango promotions in the U.S.

Since the National Mango Board started collecting a half cent for every pound handled in the U.S. in 2005, Guatemala’s production value has risen from $259 million to $371 million, according to William Watson, executive director of the board, Orlando, Fla.

Watson and other mango board staff were joined by board representatives from the U.S., Mexico and Central America March 17 at an outreach meeting during the Agritrade Expo and Conference.

“We understand from where you’re sitting is not how the mango industry is doing but how is the Guatemalan industry doing,” he said. “That’s why it’s important to drill down and look at the crop country by country.”

The board’s 2011 budget of $4.2 million funds research into health and nutrition, retail and foodservice promotions, and thousands of demos at grocery stores and other venues. The board sponsored nearly 4,000 demos in 2010, said Wendy McManus, marketing director.

Mango board: Guatemala benefits from promotions

Chris Koger

Estuardo Castro, president of the Agritrade organizing committee, welcomes members of the mango industry from Guatemala and other countries to a National Mango Board information meeting March 17.

Mango board: Guatemala benefits from promotions

Chris Koger

The National Mango Board successfully spreads the message of health and nutrition, flavor and versatility of mangoes through magazines and other media.

“Retailers are in a very powerful position to support the mango industry and also share in our success, McManus said.

Just 0.3% of all produce department sales are from mangoes, she said.

“What this means is that we have a huge growth opportunity in the U.S., but it also means we have a real challenge to get retailers to pay attention to your product,” McManus said.

The half-cent assessment kicked in for all imported and domestic mangoes in early 2005, long before the staff was hired or promotion and research programs began. Watson, who joined the group in mid-2005, said those assessments have added about a million dollars to the board’s budget each year, but the money runs out this year.

To keep the annual budget at about $4 million, the board in September voted to increase the assessments to ¾ cents per pound. The industry is waiting for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to publish the proposed increase in the Federal Register. That starts a public comment period of 30-60 days, and the USDA will take the comments into consideration.

“It’s important for you to know that if the assessment is not increased, our annual budget will go back to about $3 million a year,” Watson said. “And at some point, the research programs will need to be scaled back.”

If approved, the 6.6-cent assessment on a 4-kilo box will not go to overhead costs, but retail and foodservice promotions, which have an immediate effect on consumption, he said.

But the board’s ultimate goal is a long-term change in how Americans see mangoes.

“This is not about increasing the market overnight,” Watson said. “This is about convincing consumers to change their purchasing habits.”

To demonstrate the board’s success over the past five years, Watson said the value of the mango crop has risen significantly, from $259 million in 2005 to $371 million in 2010.

“This is one key measure of the value of the mango industry,” he said.

The National Mango Board has planned a similar meeting at the America Trades Produce Conference. April 1 at the McAllen, Texas, Convention Center.