Summer fruit season often is a time for bounty, and the tropical fruit category can provide a boost during that season, says Marc Holbik, vice president of business development for Miami-based Ecoripe Tropicals.
“We don’t consider our tropicals as competing as much with summertime and homegrown fruits as they are filling a need of consumers who are originally from the tropics looking to purchase the fruits and vegetables they love,” Holbik said.
Apples and oranges
That demand lays a foundation for tropical programs to grow and provides an opportunity for new consumers who are not as accustomed to tropicals to give them a try, Holbik said.
Tropicals don’t really “compete” with other fruits anyway, said Charlie Eagle, vice president of business development for Pompano Beach, Fla.-based Southern Specialties.
“It’s like comparing asparagus and mangoes — they’re really so totally different,” Eagle said.
He did say, however, that summer sales of tropical fruits have been brisk.
“We have a customer base that depends on us for those products, and we try to work closely with them to make sure they’re supplied year round,” he said.
Some tropical items are an ideal fit with summer, said Michael Castagnetto, strategic category manager at C.H. Robinson Worldwide, based in Eden Prairie, Minn.
“Mangoes and avocados are major summer items,” he said.
Castagnetto said Mexican mangoes and California avocados are peaking during the summer months.
“Mangoes are predominately a focus in late spring and early summer, May through July, and the avocados are a focus around the major holiday promotions of Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day,” Castagnetto said.
Competition heats up
Some tropical fruits lend themselves to seasonal marketing programs, while others don’t, Eagle said.
“We have to, to some extent, because we’re bringing in product — in the instance of mangoes, from all producing countries,” he said.
Marketing efforts have to have an educational component that helps customers know the difference between, for example, a Tommy Atkins mango and a Haden.
Summer fruit crowds the market, but tropicals compete well with them, said Karen Caplan, chief executive officer of Los Alamitos, Calif.-based Frieda’s Inc.
“Although locally grown and summer soft fruit is popular, there is always a place for a well-stocked tropical display, including top sellers like mangoes, papayas, kiwifruit, maradol papayas, plantains, coconuts, passion fruit, horned melons, starfruit and baby pineapples,” she said.
Tropicals are not a tough sell in the summer, said Mary Ostlund, marketing director at Homestead, Fla.-based Brooks Tropicals Inc.
“Tropicals are natural for summertime meals. Tropicals turn salads, side dishes and every deserts into treats,” she said.
Mangoes feel the heat of competition from other summer fruits, but they have weathered challenges, said Gary Clevenger, managing member and co-founder of Oxnard, Calif.-based Freska Produce International LLC.
“Mangoes have become a main item with most retailers — some more visible than others but nonetheless an item that is purchased weekly,” he said.
Papayas still are trying to fight their way out of the niche category, but they’re making progress, said Michael Warren, chief executive officer of Pompano Beach-based Central American Produce.
“It’s catching on, and we see some increased demands in the future,” he said.
Many tropical fruits, though available year round, hit their flavor peaks in the summer, said Tristan Simpson, marketing and corporate communications director at Ready Pac Foods Inc., Irwindale, Calif.
“During the summer, many imported fruits move to domestic distributors due to more favorable growing conditions,” she said.
Fruits become riper and more affordable through this process, so the category takes a substantial upswing during summer months, Simpson said.
“Because of the summertime seasonality, the challenge for fruit manufacturers is in creating applicable meal occasions while using seasonally fitting varieties during colder months,” she said.