Isabel Freeland, vice president of Nogales, Ariz.-based Coast Citrus Distributors, stands atop a display of mangoes at a July promotion at a Food Land in National City, Calif. The display was part of a National Mango Board retail partners promotion. The goal was to create the largest mango display ever, Freeland says. More than 9,000 boxes were sold during the promotion. All the fruit came from Coast Citrus. Coast Citrus helped store staff with set up and rotating the fruit during the weeklong event, Freeland says. In addition to selling fresh mangoes, the bakery department made mango desserts and the meat department offered dishes with mango salsa. She says the display and promotions moved a lot of mangoes and drew consumers who were less familiar with the fruit to give it a try.
Isabel Freeland, vice president of Nogales, Ariz.-based Coast Citrus Distributors, stands atop a display of mangoes at a July promotion at a Food Land in National City, Calif. The display was part of a National Mango Board retail partners promotion. The goal was to create the largest mango display ever, Freeland says. More than 9,000 boxes were sold during the promotion. All the fruit came from Coast Citrus. Coast Citrus helped store staff with set up and rotating the fruit during the weeklong event, Freeland says. In addition to selling fresh mangoes, the bakery department made mango desserts and the meat department offered dishes with mango salsa. She says the display and promotions moved a lot of mangoes and drew consumers who were less familiar with the fruit to give it a try.

Produce suppliers are quick to credit the success of mainstream items like bananas, pineapples and avocados for having driven tropical fruit sales in recent years.

However, the category as a whole is showing gains, according to data from the Produce Marketing Association.

Through June 15, according PMA data, avocados had recorded $1.27 billion in sales over the previous 52 weeks, which was a 15.1% increase over the previous year. Coconuts logged $13.05 million in sales, up 7.1%. Mango sales were $244.27 million, up 10.4%. Papaya sales were $68.58 million, up 2.7%. Pineapples sales were $565.08 million, up 17.7%.

The total tropical category, excluding avocados, recorded $890.97 million in sales over the 52-week period and saw a year-on-year increase of 14.2%.

In terms of volume, the tropical category sold 671.09 million pounds, which was up 12.5% over the previous year. Pineapples accounted for 456.49 million pounds, which represented a 15.2% increase in volume year-on-year. Mangoes accounted for 157.06 million pounds, or 11.3% more than a year earlier. Papayas were 48.86 million pounds, up 3.9%.

“If you take into consideration that bananas, pineapples, papayas, avocados, limes and mangoes are tropical items, then we have experienced a good increase in all these categories over the last five years, of 10-15%,” said Isabel Freeland, vice president of Nogales, Ariz.-based Coast Citrus Distributors LLC.

Fast-growing category

The tropical category has seen notable growth in recent years, said Jose Rossignoli, category general manager for Robinson Fresh, a division of Eden Prairie, Minn.-based C.H. Robinson Worldwide Inc.

“While the tropical fruit category is not one of the largest, it is one of the fastest-growing fresh produce categories,” he said.

The category has grown 8.5% in sales dollars and 6% in sales pounds per year since 2010, he said.

Rossignoli said the category grew 13.4% in sales and 11.2% in pounds sold in 2013, citing data from Freshlook IRI.

“The category is primarily driven by a shift in consumers demand for more interesting and less processed foods, as well as an increase in spur-of-the-moment, mood-based purchase decisions.”

The tropical category has a number of draws, not the least of which is aesthetics, Freeland said.

Aggressive promotions, combined with inviting displays, drive retail sales, Freeland said.

She cited, as an example, one of her retail customers that recently built a display that featured more than 150,000 mangoes. 

“Crazy, but effective,” Freeland said. “The store manager said that the great thing was not only that they moved more mangoes than ever but the amount of new customers that they were able to draw in just to see the display.”

Mango power

Mangoes are providing fuel for much of the tropical category’s growth, said Chris Ciruli, a partner in Ciruli Bros. and Amex Distributing Co. in Rio Rico, Ariz.

“Among the factors that are driving mango-specific growth are year-round availability, increased awareness about selection and usage, and changes in U.S. demographics,” Ciruli said. Growing Asian and Latino populations bring a familiarity with mangoes that appear certain to propel future sales growth, he said.

There are other category drivers, said Michael Warren, president of Pompano Beach, Fla.-based Central American Produce Inc.

“Young people eager to try new things,” he said.

Warren also pointed to mangoes as a mainstay, not only in the tropical category but in produce department as a whole.

“I think as people read about them in magazines and see recipes, the cut fruit industry is making it more available to people who maybe don’t know what to do when they see the mango,” he said.

Jessie Capote, owner of Miami-baed J&C Tropicals, said his locally grown tropical program, which features more than 60 Florida-grown items, shows yearly growth.

“We’ve gotten a lot of interest from our retail accounts on putting together locally grown tropicals,” he said.

Growth of the tropical program is a matter of relevance to health-minded shoppers, Capote said.

“I think the health and fitness lifestyle has added a lot, people just being food-conscious, and when you consider why locally grown produce is better, then it’s hard to argue,” he said.