“It is an important factor and a highly-competitive component of our program,” he said. “The tropical category continues to gain momentum in the U.S. from a share of sales perspective. We are seeing strong growth in terms of share of dollar sales.”
In 2009, tropicals accounted for 9.5% of industry fruit sales. In 2013, that share increased to 11.1%, Rossignoli said.
Consumers are becoming more familiar with tropicals and produce retailers are modifying their expectations and buying patterns to meet that demand, he said.
“They are bringing a lot more awareness to their produce personnel and the merchandising teams they have in place to deliver a more positive experience every time,” Rossignoli said.
Tropical fruit remains behind other commodities that enjoy strong promotions, said Dick Spezzano, president of the Monrovia, Calif.-based Spezzano Consulting Service Inc.
“When it comes to tropicals, there is so little money behind them,” he said. “The category is in its infancy. There are many things competing for shelf space and promotional space.
“There’s not a lot of effort from the exporters, but the importers like Frieda’s, Coosemans and Melissa’s, they do good merchandising. They’re important items to them and it will take effort on the supply side. If there are no concentrated efforts supported by other countries or exporters, tropicals will be one of the losers,” Spezzano said.
Southern Specialties Inc., in Pompano Beach, Fla., experiences increasing sales of tropical fruit, said Charlie Eagle, vice president of business development.
“We continue to see tropicals as a growth item,” he said. “There are few products that have the intense tropical colors that the mango has and the pink flesh of the papaya. Combine this with the eye appeal and the flavors and nutritional value, it just seems natural these products will continue to grow.”
Mangoes are the biggest-selling U.S. tropical.
“Mangoes are being introduced in many more restaurants now,” said Gary Clevenger, managing member and co-founder of Oxnard, Calif.-based Freska Produce International LLC. “People are being exposed to the flavor, even in the smoothies at McDonald’s. All the smoothie bars always seem to feature a mango flavor. The flavor of the mango is becoming more prevalent. People are slowly beginning to understand the mango.”
Note on correction: This article originally mischaracterized the percentage of tropical fruit sales for C.H. Robinson.