Tropical fruit marketers go to great lengths to lure new customers in retail stores with sampling, signs and other point-of-sale materials. But they don’t have to work quite as hard with foodservice.
Such efforts aren’t necessary when it comes to the nation’s chefs, said Robert Schueller, director of public relations for Los Angeles-based World Variety Produce, which markets products under the Melissa’s label.
“The foodservice customer is the easiest,” he said. “Chefs are always looking for new and exciting things for their menus, and they’re looking for ways to differentiate themselves. They want customers to expect things that are new and different.”
Fresh coconut, mangoes, papaya and pineapple are among the tropical items getting more attention in foodservice kitchens, said Karen Caplan, president and chief executive officer of Frieda’s Inc., Los Alamitos, Calif.
“They are becoming more popular because chefs love their fantastic flavors,” she said, “which make their dishes seem special and good tasting.”
Peter Leifermann, sales and category manager of J&C Tropicals Inc., Miami, also noted an increased emphasis on fresh product.
“As the American palate matures, we’re seeing increased demand from the foodservice arena in typically Asian commodities like ginger, dragon fruit and thai guava,” he said, “but also in the overall demand for fresh, whole foods. Where they used to use frozen mamey or papaya for desserts, the focus is now on fresh. Young chefs are more experienced with these items, and you’re seeing them in more menu combinations everywhere.”
Eddie Caram, general manager of New Limeco LLC, Princeton, Fla., said even niche items are seeing increased foodservice demand in some areas.
“Mamey, for the most part, is still an ethnic fruit,” he said. “But in the foodservice, depending on the state — like in Florida and in the northeast — you do see it incorporated in many different desserts and smoothies.”
Charlie Eagle, vice president of business development for Pompano Beach, Fla.-based Southern Specialties Inc., said he has customers using mangoes in things such as desserts, salsa and poultry dishes.
Tropical sales in the foodservice sector are “growing more slowly than retail,” he said, “but we’re seeing good progress. We’re seeing mangoes incorporated in more and more menus. One of the reasons we’re bullish on mangoes is that people are getting exposed to mangoes through foodservice. The quickest way to a consumer’s wallet is through their stomach. We really think that when you have a good product and people are exposed to that, they’ll come back to that positive experience.”
The Orlando-based National Mango Board encourages chefs and operators to use fresh mangoes and offers guidance on varieties and ripeness levels, director of marketing Wendy McManus said.
The board also offers menu concepts to chain restaurants that do not have mangoes on their menus.
For example, the board has promotions under way with Huntington, Calif.-based BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse, which operates more than 100 casual dining restaurants, and Dallas-based Tony Roma’s, which has about 200 locations. Both chains are serving mango salsa, BJ’s with a Thai salmon dish and Tony Roma’s with mahi mahi.
“By offering some of our recipes, it often sparks a new idea with chefs,” she said.