According to the National Mango Board, mango consumption quadrupled in the U.S. from 1980 to 2008. Tropical fruit marketers have their own theories about which item in the category will take off next.
“Papaya demand is increasing, definitely moving from novelty to mainstream,” said Mary Ostlund, director of marketing for Brooks Tropicals Inc., Homestead, Fla. “Papaya has gained such consumer recognition that there are Droid social gaming networks, retail clothing stores, artwork, and even fabric named after it.”
Of course, not everyone agrees which papaya is the best.
The most common variety sold in the U.S. is the small strawberry papaya, while the larger maradol is popular in Mexico and Central America.
However, Robert Schueller, director of public relations for Los Angeles-based World Variety Produce, which markets product under the Melissa’s brand, said the red Caribbean papaya, which was introduced to the U.S. market from Belize a few years ago, has the characteristics of a strawberry papaya but is much bigger like a maradol.
“You get more papaya for your money,” said Schueller, who added that red Caribbeans are an excellent source of vitamins A, C and potassium, are available year-round, and have a longer shelf-life than many other papaya varieties.
Ostlund said volumes of red Caribbean papayas had been down for seven months because of damage from tropical storms last year. However, she said Brooks expects new plantings to be ready for harvesting this summer.
Steve Hayworth, commodity manager for Calavo Growers Inc., Santa Paula, Calif., said the Hawaiian papayas the company ships to both coasts on a year-round basis have higher brix levels than other varieties.
“Recent bountiful crops and good overall quality over the last couple of years has made the product more available,” he said. “Retailers and foodservice companies are experiencing year-over-year growth on the product.”
While some other products have not yet developed the wide appeal of mangoes or papayas, marketers are excited about their potential. Schueller said more recent introductions to the U.S. market, such as mangosteen, have helped add excitement to the category.
Mangosteen was first allowed into the U.S. in 2007. Schueller said the fruit, which is touted for its flavor and health benefits, is a good source of antioxidants. World Variety imports the product from Taiwan, Thailand and Puerto Rico from mid-April through August.
“The price is fairly high, $3-4 a piece in some cases,” he said. “The price is going to be pretty high again this season because there have been some weather issues. It takes a few years for people to get an understanding of particular fruits — how to use it and when it’s available.”