Pineapple lovers don’t need to be convinced to buy this perennial favorite.

It’s the hesitant consumer, the one who maybe doesn’t know how to cut a fruit or what to do besides eat pineapple chunks that leaves the category open for expansion.

In the long term, pineapple consumption has expanded exponentially, said Alan Dolezal, vice president of sales for Coral Gables, Fla.-based Turbana Corp., especially since the MD2 variety came to the forefront.

“But over the last few years, consumption has really plateaued,” Dolezal said. “That’s primarily economically driven.”

Spurring consumers back into that growth mode depends on several factors, suppliers said.

“It’s incumbent to educate the consumer on what the dietary attributes are of the fruit and when it’s ready to eat,” Dolezal said.

Knowing when fruit is ripe is a big factor. Many consumers, Dolezal said, equate ripeness with color.

“There’s a misconception among consumers that when they see green pineapple, it’s not ready to eat,” he said.

“Ripeness is determined by maturity and harvest point brix and brix to acidity. The degreening of fruit is a process that is done artificially.”

Retailers can get around that learning curve easily.

“That’s where some retailers who offer cored fruit versus non-cored fruit have a bit of an advantage,” he said.

Ensuring the sweetest fruit makes it to market also is essential, said Alvaro Acevedo, vice president of sales and marketing for Miami-based Chestnut Hill Farms.

“Increasing consumption is a combination of promotion and advertising at store level and continuing to deliver the sweetest fruit possible,” he said.

Convenience is a major factor in increasing pineapple consumption, said Dennis Christou, vice president of marketing for Coral Gables-based Del Monte Fresh Produce NA.

“Offering value-added and fresh-cut pineapple is very important and presents many opportunities for growth,” he said.

“By making pineapples ready to eat, Del Monte has put the fruit in the hands of the consumers who might not have picked up a pineapple due to convenience or preparation reasons.”

For convenience, Del Monte offers cylinders, spears, wedges, chunks and slices.

“Consumers who find the task of coring and slicing a whole pineapple daunting and intimidating appreciate the ready-to-eat fruit, and those on the go enjoy the convenience of the healthy fresh-cut snack,” Christou said.

To get consumers thinking about different uses for pineapples, Westlake Village, Calif.-based Dole Fresh Fruit plans to expand its tropical grilling this spring.

“In the spring and summer, we will be having grilling promotions and tying pineapple grilling in with our banana grilling campaign, ‘Go Bananas After Dark,’ that we launched in 2010,” said Bil Goldfield, communications manager.

The promotion challenges consumers to think of fruit outside its common context and encourages creative culinary use, Goldfield said.

After a challenging 2009, foodservice business appears to be picking up for pineapples.

Institutional business, like schools, could be an important area for growth, Christou said.

“As pineapples increase in popularity and consumption grows, many foodservice outlets find that it is a versatile item that they can include on menus, in salad bars, in single serve cups and, with changes in child nutrition guidelines, in school cafeterias,” he said.

Foodservice clients typically require a specific quality and food safety attributes, said Drew Schwartzhoff, director of marketing for Eden Prairie, Minn.-based C.H. Robinson Worldwide.

“We are able to provide custom packed, HACCP-certified fruit that meets the specific needs for those foodservice accounts,” he said.

“We have been able to create efficiencies and value to foodservice customers that has proven to be a successful niche.”