Tropical fruits are seeing growth in consumption.

More people are placing the fruit in their shopping carts.

“We continue to see the tropical fruit category growing,” said Robert Schueller, director of public relations for the Los Angeles-based World Variety Produce Inc., which markets under the Melissa’s brand. “Consumer demand has a lot to do with it. A lot more fruit is being brought in to meet that demand.”

Demand is being helped by the addition of more production areas and an expansion of growing seasons, he said.

The introduction of unfamiliar tropical fruit helps spur demand, Schueller said.

“The newer tropical fruits making their way into the U.S. allows for some excitement,” he said. “People are experiencing them for the first time and we get e-mails from consumers who experienced a particular fruit on vacation and wonder if we have it. That’s how the process starts in building demand in the U.S.”

Retail sales are helping increase demand for tropicals, said Eddie Caram, general manager of New Limeco LLC in Princeton, Fla.

He credits consumer education through venues including The TV Food Network as helping promote the products.

“They’re helping increase the category,” Caram said. “We are seeing a steady increase in demand. More and more people are trying all these fruits, the papaya and other tropicals. A lot of people are becoming more health-conscious and understand all the benefits of these tropicals.”

Demographics are changing and tropicals are being purchased by a wider audience, said Mary Ostlund, director of marketing for the Homestead, Fla.-based Brooks Tropicals LLC.

“We’re seeing more interest in the larger population,” she said. “If you look at your customer base, it’s more diversified. Consumers are interested in increasing their fruit and vegetable consumption and are looking for new fruits and vegetables to do that. The great thing about produce is you can almost address every customer who’s interested in eating new products by displaying different things.

“The produce section is almost the early adopter stage of the whole supermarket. They’re willing to try new things and are interested in learning what to do with them. People take the early adopter mindset when they go to the produce section.”

During a recent visit to three separate grocery chain stores, Ostlund said she saw 12 different recipe cards.

Of the 12, four involved tropicals, she said.

As more ethnic cultures and cuisines are introduced into the U.S., the demand and consumption of exotic tropical fruits is steadily increasing, said Dennis Christou, vice president of marketing for Del Monte Fresh Produce NA Inc., Coral Gables, Fla.

Tropical fruit salsas are popularly served with fish and pork dishes and grilled pineapples and bananas are becoming more commonplace and the restaurant-going public sees the trends as easy and delicious ways to eat healthier, he said.

“Hispanic and Asian influences have had a great effect on the increasing demand for tropicals,” Christou said. “Foodservice will continue to grow and the produce category will continue to increase its share in the category. Public awareness of the health benefits of fruit and vegetables, government-mandated school lunch programs and the increase in demand for healthier ‘snack’ foods, which is the fastest-growing category, will all play a part in this increase.”

Eden Prairie, Minn.-based C.H. Robinson Worldwide Inc., is experiencing increasing tropical sales as consumers become more educated about the category, said Jose Rossignoli, the category’s general manager.

“There is a higher level of correlation between cosmetic appearance and the fruit’s taste,” he said. “A greener lime isn’t always a juicier lime. More consumers now understand that a better appearance and color doesn’t necessarily mean better flavor. This allows them to be a little riskier during purchasing.”

To help determine shoppers’ tastes, C.H. Robinson conducts consumer test panels throughout the year and to encourage higher sales, promotes display contests including a recent “World’s Largest Pineapple Display.”

Mango consumption continues to grow at a strong rate, said Gary Clevenger, managing member and co-founder of Freska Produce International LLC, Oxnard, Calif.

With f.o.b. pricing and demand, per-capita consumption has risen nearly every year for the last seven years, he said.

“That tells you the consumption is increasing here in the U.S. and the real target market is the Anglos,” Clevenger said. “They’re the ones who didn’t grow up with them and are the least educated about the fruit.”

Clevenger credits much of the fruit’s increasing acceptance to efforts by the National Mango Board in Orlando, Fla.