(June 18, 4:14 p.m.) Promotions are vital in the produce industry — especially when it comes to marketing rare and specialty varieties. Companies that offer specialty produce are finding that information really is their strongest selling tool. Some companies have found a combination of methods effective in marketing their specialty products to their clients.

Branding

Southern Specialties, Pompano Beach, Fla., saw explosive growth last year in the volume of mangoes and papayas sold under its two-year-old Paradise Tropicals brand. Although the company has sold both fruits for years, the Paradise line gave the commodities a boost in sales, said Charlie Eagle, vice president of business development.

“The fact that we can offer year-round (supplies) and papayas gives us a platform upon which we can add the more esoteric and seasonal supplies of Paradise mangoes specialties,” Eagle said.

Eagle said many of their varieties, such as star fruit, Key limes and lychee nuts, were niche products that functioned as great accompaniments.

“These products give the company a little bit of pizzazz but aren’t drivers yet. For that reason, we haven’t gone to the effort of branding the product at this point,” Eagle said.

In-store sampling

Peter Leifermann, president of Fresh King Inc., Homestead, Fla., said his company offers in-store tasting of various products to demonstrate their taste and use.

“We think it’s very important to get the fruit into the customer’s mouth. People might look at dragon fruit and say, ‘What in the world?’ but when they taste it they realize what the fuss is about,” Leifermann said.

Eagle agreed. Southern Specialties is focusing on working with foodservice distributors so the company’s products can be seen and consumed in restaurants. Customers tasting the fruit and seeing how it can be presented in a restaurant format is a great stepping stone to creating retail demand, Eagle said.

“One of the biggest hurdles for shippers of exotic varieties is general unfamiliarity with the products. We expose clients through sampling, printed material and access to recipes. It’s the quickest thing that will create demand,” Eagle said.

Marketing/visuals

Brooks Tropicals, Homestead, Fla., provides retailers with updates on lower-volume crops so they know what is in season.

“Mangoes, guavas and kiwis come in and out of season. We make sure our retailers know what’s in season because some of these seasons aren’t very long,” said Mary Ostlund, marketing director.

Brooks is working to help retailers make unfamiliar fruit appeal to their patrons.

“We don’t expect people to walk up and say, ‘I’m going to pick this up and eat it.’ We’ve got to get it into folks’ diet as part of an overall recipe,” Ostlund said.

Brooks recommends serving suggestions in its tropical fruit displays to show consumers how to include the variety in their daily meals. Suggestions include blending in a mamey sapote with bananas in a smoothie or replacing tomatoes with papaya and kiwi in homemade salsa.

“It’s not just tomatoes in salsa. It’s also not betting the whole dinner on an exotic specialty,” Ostlund said.

Introducing customers to a new variety by incorporating it into familiar recipes makes the consumer more comfortable and likely to try it, Ostlund said.

“What’s salsa but a prayer and whim? You just chop up different things and try something different,” Ostlund said.