By Liz Beggs, The Packer

The tropical fruit category continues to grow because of increased media coverage, grower-shippers say.

"We've seen double-digit growth in the category in the last decade," said Robert Schueller, public relations director for Los Angeles-based World Variety Produce Inc., promoters of the Melissa's brand, a company that sells tropical produce from cherimoya and star fruit to South African baby pineapple.

"The tropical fruit category represents about 40 items, and we lead the category in most of those," he said.

Schueller said the category maintains its growth potential largely because of increased consumer awareness thanks to extensive media coverage and the beginning of U.S. production of some of the tropical varieties, such as the cherimoya or the kiwano melon.

The media have played a huge part in the growth of tropical fruits because they demonstrate how the fruits of different cultures and countries can be adapted to use with local cuisine, Schueller said.

World Variety demonstrated its faith in the tropical category by adding the Hawaiian apple banana to its product list in the fall of 2006.

It's that type of faith in the tropical category that has kept Miami-based J&C Tropicals in business for more than 40 years.

The company recently released a print advertising campaign focusing on its tropical roots boniato, yucca and malanga, said vice president of sales and marketing Mark Vertrees.

The campaign copy, derived from Ira Gershwin lyrics, reads "You say potatoes, we say boniatos, yucca, malanga," Vertrees said.

Tropical roots are part of the potato family, but "people who aren't familiar with them are kind of puzzled as to what they are and what to do with them," he said.

"What we're trying to do is get people to think that they're really the same thing, which they are," Vertrees said.