For marketers of tropical produce items, fall is spring. In a sense, it’s a season of beginnings for the category, said Mary Ostlund, director of marketing for Brooks Tropicals Inc., Homestead, Fla.

“No one wants summer to end, and tropicals are a great-tasting way to extend the excitement,” Ostlund said.

“Tropicals aren’t specialty anymore, but they are special. They’re the fastest growing category in the produce aisle.”

Major items such as mangoes, papayas and limes drive the category’s sales, said Charlie Eagle, vice president of business development for Southern Specialties Inc., Pompano Beach, Fla.

“That’s our lineup, and we’re sticking to it,” Eagle said.

“We offer mangoes from all growing regions, papayas from Belize, and limes from Guatemala. Our limes are available in all the traditional formats, as well as 2- and 3-pound bags.”

Promotions are many and varied during the fall season, and no single strategy is better than another, said William Watson, executive director of the National Mango Board, Orlando, Fla.

“We try and work with either the retailer or foodservice operator or distributor, but we don’t want to go in and say, ‘Hey, here’s what you ought to do to promote mangoes,’” Watson said. “Retail stores are a great example. We’ll go into a guy’s retail store and say, ‘Here are some options you can consider to promote mangoes to your consumers.’ He may take one of those options, which could include some (point-of-purchase materials) or a display contest or something like that, or he may have an idea to really build up his tropical display and feature mangoes in that. We can help him work through that.”

The entire tropical category is moving upward, said Michael Warren, president of Pompano Beach-based Central American Produce Inc.

“We’re seeing the whole category grow from being nothing to a strong category,” he said.

Items that are driving the category can vary, he said.

“At the moment, some supplies are short, like pineapples,” he said. “It seems as though people are attracted to fruit. We do see more of it prepared in the stores. You see the fresh-cut with pineapples, you see the fresh-cut with mangoes. The papaya category seems to be growing. People see the value.”

Promotions depend more on supplies than a particular season, Warren said.

“We promote at a time when we have promotable volumes coming out,” he said. “It depends on the volumes, and the volumes show we can go ahead with promotions.”

Certain demographics, particularly Asian and Hispanic markets, remain strongholds for tropicals, but items find their way to others, too, Warren said.

“It’s becoming more mainstream,” he said.

“We’re seeing people are trying tropicals that haven’t tried it before. It’s becoming more mainstream, so there’s going to be more consumers looking for it. I’d look for it to grow.”

Oxnard, Calif.-based Freska Produce International LLC is starting to find customers in new territories, said Gary Clevenger, managing member and co-founder.

“Our focus is pretty much the West Coast, but we’re making a little more penetration in the Midwest,” he said.

“I think per-capita consumption has doubled or tripled over the last seven to 10 years. I think that’s pretty evident that the category is growing and is becoming more a mainstream item on the produce shelves.”