Tropical fruits: Imports up, U.S. production slips

05/17/2002 12:00:00 AM
Chris Koger


Robert Schueller, assistant marketing director for Melissa’s/World Variety Produce Inc., Los Angeles, explains how a tamarillo tastes to an attendee of the Food Marketing Institute convention in Chicago May 5-7. Tamarillos come from a subtropical tree native to the central Andes and cultivated especially in New Zealand for its edible fruit. Melissa’s also markets lychees, which Schueller says his company has available seven months of the year, with product coming from Mexico, Taiwan, Israel and the U.S.

Photo by Janice M. Kresin


(May 17) Tropical fruit production in the U.S. has had its ups and downs over the past 20 years, with limes, papayas, mangoes, pineapples and avocados seeing less production for the fresh market in 2000 than they did in the early ’80s.

But marketers see a bright future for tropicals with strong imports and increased consumption.

While bananas and pineapples — with per capita consumption of 29.2 and 3.3 pounds per person respectively in 2000 — have seen respectable increases, shippers say mangoes, papayas and lesser-known fruits such as lychees and mangoesteen are ripe for consumption explosions.

“I’d say there is a lot of interest in a number of different things,” said Bill Vogel, general manager of Tavilla Sales Co., Los Angeles. “We’ve seen large increases in the Mexican papaya, the maridol, and we’re seeing a lot of interest in the specialty items, such as star fruit from Taiwan.”

At the same time, retailers are cautious with specialty items, preferring to boost sales of items they already offer before banking on lesser-known — and often riskier — fruit that has a short season and limited availability, said Neal Brooks, director of sales and marketing for Brooks Tropicals Inc., Homestead, Fla.

“Ten years ago, there was a real push for new things in the supermarket,” Brooks said. “Now they want to go with tried and proven items. ... It used to be back in the ’80s every supermarket wanted something exotic, something different from what the guy down the street had, whether it would sell or not.”


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