HLB Specialties uses packaging as a way to educate consumers on the tropical fruit inside. ( HLB Specialties )

Teaching U.S. consumers about tropical produce is no snap, said Chris Ciruli, partner with Nogales, Ariz.-based Amex Distributing Co./Ciruli Bros.

“It’s a long-term commitment,” he said.

As with any educational process, it starts with the basics, said Ciruli, who focuses heavily on mangoes.

“The No. 1 question is how to cut it,” he said.

The Orlando, Fla.-based National Mango Board has been leading efforts to familiarize U.S. shoppers with the fruit and its numerous varieties and colors, Ciruli said.

The principle is the same for other tropical items, he said.

“Look at a dragon fruit and jackfruit. People don’t know what to do with it,” Ciruli said.

“It’s a tremendous amount of education. Your front-line guy in the store has to know. We have to get produce managers familiar with good varieties. We’ve made progress, but we still have a long way to go.”

Mangoes’ ubiquity and versatility are allies in the effort to educate consumers about the fruit, said Angela Serna, marketing manager with the mango board.

“Since mangoes grow in a variety of tropical regions, they are available year-round in the U.S.,” she said. “The various varietals are a great opportunity to drive repeat purchase because each has a unique flavor profile.”

The more consumers know about tropical produce, the more they buy, said Louie Carricarte, president and owner of Homestead, Fla.-based Unity Groves Corp.

“A big thing is the consumer is asking for these products,” he said. “Our focus is trying to get consumers to be aware of what’s out there.”

Changing demographics across the U.S. have shortened the learning curve, Carricarte said.

“A lot of people that live here now ate this where they came from,” he said. “In the larger cities, most people are familiar with the products.”

Social media is an important teaching tool, said Andrea Dubak, marketing specialist with Calgary, Alberta-based distributor Thomas Fresh.

“We encourage (consumers) to experiment with tropical produce, using our social media blogs and company website,” Dubak said. “Education comes first, which, if done correctly, can lead to interest, followed by purchases.”

Philadelphia-based distributor Procacci Bros. Sales Corp. employs a similar tactic, said Carlos Rodriguez, director of sales for tropicals.

“For us, in the past, on our website, there was a link that you could get recipes for these items,” he said.

Gaining repeat customers is easy if the product is good, Rodriguez said.

“It all depends on quality, and that’s our job,” he said.

Digital teaching tools help Pompano Beach, Fla.-based Southern Specialties Inc. connect consumers with its tropical lineup, said Javier Gutierrez, tropicals category manager.

“Social media and ways to make the customer more engaged with their food — share different ways to prepare traditional products and do-it-yourself ideas,” he said.