Tropical fruit marketers say economic pressures aren’t any harsher on their sales than on any other categories.

In fact, some say there are tropical fruits that outperform other fruits in lean economic times.

“Look at the cost of papaya and mango — they’re not terribly expensive,” said Charlie Eagle, vice president of business development with Pompano Beach, Fla.-based Southern Specialties.

Some tropical items are tougher to pin down in terms of affordability in lean times, Eagle said.

“When you’re talking about rambutan, it really depends on what the retailer wants to charge,” he said.

Even then, he said, costs are approachable to retailers and consumers.

“It’s up to the customer to decide whether the cost is appealing enough for them to buy it daily or for a special occasion, but I think there is a customer base that is going to continue to generate strong business,” Eagle said.

Some tropical fruits, such as pineapples and mangoes, compete strongly with any other fruit for consumer dollars, said Michael Warren, chief executive officer of Pompano Beach-based Central American Produce.

“I think there’s always an effect economically because people have choices, but mangoes are an inexpensive item and pineapples go on sale usually once a month in most stores.”

Cultural demands are a factor

Papayas can struggle, though, Warren said.

“It’s still culturally driven, but I believe demand is going to pick up,” he said.

Sometimes, a particular store will sell its inventory of tropical fruit regardless of economic circumstances, but it’s up to marketers to figure out which items will sell and where, said Marc Holbik, vice president of business development with Miami-based Ecoripe Tropicals.

“We do work with a lot of small retailers that do an excellent job in understanding the consumer demographic per store, and tailor their product line towards the needs of their customers,” he said.

The demographic mix of the U.S. provides some assurance that tropical lines will sell in many places, Holbik said.

“We are a multicultural country, and with many cultures comes many tastes, and as a tropical fruit and vegetable distributor, our mission is to meet the demands of our multicultural population and help retailers to do the same,” he said.

That’s an important point, said Tristan Simpson, marketing and corporate communications director at Irwindale, Calif.-based Ready Pac Foods Inc.

Hispanic and Asian consumers represent about 20% of the U.S. population and consume fruits at a higher rate than the average American consumer, she said.

Tropicals a treat for budget cutters

Perhaps there are some tradeoffs that don’t harm the tropical line during times of nearly 8% unemployment, as been the case in the U.S. consistently over the last several years, some marketers said.

“With consumers wanting to pamper themselves at home — even if they can’t afford to travel or dine out as much — trying a new tropical fruit is like a special treat, said Karen Caplan, chief executive officer of Los Alamitos, Calif.-based Frieda’s Inc.

Food shows and other media may have helped insulate tropical fruit products from the recession, she said.

Some fruits that may not have gotten as much exposure as others might be more vulnerable, but that doesn’t mean they’re not cost-friendly, said Mary Ostlund, marketing director at Homestead, Fla.-based Brooks Tropicals Inc.

“Economic downward trends may hinder a consumer’s willingness to try new things, but in many cases … the fruit is large and it delivers a lot of bang for the buck,” she said.

Gary Clevenger, managing member and co-founder of Oxnard, Calif.-based Freska Produce International LLC, said his company hasn’t felt any negative effects of a sluggish economy.

“We have seen sales increases every year since we started Freska in 2004, (even) with the economic forces in effect for the past three years,” he said.

He did add, however, that economic factors might have prevented higher profit margins.

Tropical fruit is no worse off than other fruits in down economic times, said Jessie Capote, vice president/owner of Miami-based J&C Tropicals, but “the economy doesn’t spare anyone,” he said.