Tropical fruits remain a niche in terms of total U.S. produce sales, but the category is reporting gains.
Mangoes retained sizeable edges over other products in the category, racking up sales of $114.3 million in the 52-week period ending Jan. 28, according to the West Dundee, Ill.-based Nielsen Perishables Group.
Mango sales grew by about 15% during the period.
“You do have some items that are showing some pretty strong power growth,” said Steve Lutz, executive vice president of the Nielsen Perishables Group.
Lutz also noted the importance of keeping those numbers in their proper context, adding that, in terms of total produce sales, the category represents only 1% of total sales.
Some items, he said, also lost ground from the previous year. Specifically, he said guava was down about 10%.
The caprices of nature often are determining factors in a certain item’s success, Lutz said.
“The problem with produce, obviously, is it can be seasonal or it can be crop-related,” he said.
The tropical fruit category showed dollar sales increases region by region over the past year, according to Nielsen Perishables Group.
Across the U.S., specialty fruits generated an average of $429 per store on a weekly basis, which was up 4.5% over the previous year.
The biggest gain was in the central region, with sales of $396, compared to $360 a year earlier. All other regions showed gains of 2.7% in the South to 4.5% in the West.
Mangoes represented about 40% of tropical fruit sales, compared to about 37% a year earlier.
Beyond mangoes, which have the force and funding of the National Mango Board behind them, much of the category is difficult to promote, said Dick Spezzano, owner of Monrovia, Calif.-based Spezzano Consulting Service.
“There’s nobody behind it like a commission or large shipper and importer, which is important,” Spezzano said.
Lagging sales in some cases might be traced to a lack of aggressiveness on the part of retailers, Lutz said.
“There’s potential to sell these products, but it certainly takes consumer education, visibility on the shelf, promotion to attract people to the category,” he said.
Plantains, which fall under the banana category, experienced 3% growth last year, according to Nielsen Perishables Group.
“Plantains have come a long way in the last five to 10 years, as far as being more of a mainstream item,” said Bill Sheridan, executive vice president of sales with Miami-based banana shipper Banacol Marketing Corp.
Tropical fruit sales are gaining strength in regions that formerly had been weaker in the category, said Tristan Simpson, director of marketing for Ready Pac Inc., Irwindale, Calif.
“The South and Midwest will continue to grow as tropical fruit continues to become more mainstream,” she said.
Retailers will help the process along by featuring those items, Simpson added.
“Retailers with a greater focus on tropical fruit will increase their assortment, gaining more category awareness,” she said.