( Courtesy Frieda's Inc. )

With seasonally increasing volume, Florida tropical marketers are look for “cart-stopping” time for the state’s specialties at supermarkets around the country.

“Everything is thumbs up for us from avocados to passion fruit,” said Mary Ostlund, marketing director for Homestead, Fla.-based Brooks Tropicals Inc.
 
“We think it’ll be a good season for us,” she said.

The company started Florida shipments of tropicals in May with jackfruit and mamey sapote, with dragon fruit starting in May, along with seasonally increasing volume of avocados and passion fruit.

“What’s fun about Florida tropicals is that there really is a lot of fun in the fruits themselves, always a bit of astonishment in the fruit themselves,” she said.
 
Whether it is Brooks’ SlimCado being four times larger than a hass avocado, the wild shapes of the dragon fruit and the star fruit or the wrinkled passion fruit, some consumers need to know more.

“A little explanation is always required but we will gladly give it,” she said.

June through August are months of peak Florida tropical availability for Brooks Tropicals, she said.

Ostlund said avocados were coming back from damage caused by Hurricane Irma in September 2017.

“We think (avocados) are coming back solidly and it looks like a great season for us,” she said.
 
Meanwhile, she said the firm’s Florida-grown dragon fruit has grown in volume and offers fascination to consumers.

“Dragon fruit itself has a story that consumers love,” she said.
 
The wild-looking fruit is a “cart-stopper” at retail, she said.

“It’s also a fruit that tells a wild story, and we’re finding a lot of people, consumers both on social media and on our website, that are interested to hear about how it grows, how it gets its wild looks,” she said.
 
That interest translates to consumer purchases.

The dragon fruit, part of the cactus family, first blooms with big white flowers that are pollinated on moonlit nights by bats or insects.

As far as eating dragon fruit, Ostlund said one of Brooks Tropicals’ most popular pages is “seven no-recipe ideas for tropicals,” including dragon fruit.
 
“Dragon fruit is a fruit that needs no recipes, because it literally can be added to almost any salad you’re making, whether it’s leafy or creamy,” she said.
 
Ostlund said she has made everything from shrimp cocktail to smoothies with the fruit.

“It is very refreshing and is the perfect fruit for summer,” she said, noting that consumers can make a summer cooler or just slice the fruit and scoop out the flesh. The skin of the dragon fruit can also be used as a bowl for salads, he said.

“What’s great about dragon fruit also is that it grabs kids’ attention,” she said. 
“We’re all looking for ways of kids eating healthier, eating more fruits and vegetables — and this is a fruit that kids literally grab from their perch in the shopping cart because of its wild colors and its wild shapes,” she said.

Growing tropical appeal

Jessie Capote, executive vice president and co-owner of Miami-based J&C Tropicals, said 2019 has been a good year for tropicals, despite tight supply chains for many items including mangoes and tropical roots.

“You really appreciate the vendor base when you have a year like this, where despite those shortages, your vendors are still getting you what you need and striving to do as much as they can,” he said.

Speaking in June, Capote said the current story was all about Florida-grown tropicals.

J&C Tropicals started out with light volume in March and April with mamey sapote.

However, he said the 400-pound gorilla for the company’s Florida dragon fruit program that just started in late May.

With 12 years in the business, Capote said he has never seen an item broaden its appeal so quickly.

“I’ve never seen an item dominate so quickly, across all across all demographics, across all channels,” he said.
 
“We now have a Vietnam program, we now have a Ecuador program, we have like seven different varieties — it’s unreal,” he said.

“You walk into the grocery store, and the retailer is displaying it properly, you are going to gravitate towards it,” he said.
 
While there are many ways to eat the tropical fruit, the dragon fruit is simple enough to eat.
 
“You can slice it in half and spoon it out — and it can be as simple as that.”

For 2019, J&C Tropicals expects a good supply of Florida dragon fruit.

“It’s looking like a very healthy crop,” he said, noting availability of both the red-fleshed and white-flesh variety.

Peak supply is expected in July and August, though lighter volumes will be available into December.

“We have been selling the whole Florida tropicals line and even though (dragon fruit) becomes the centerpiece, a lot of our programs include all the stuff that’s coming online during those months here in Florida — mamey sapote, dragon fruit, guava, starfruit, mangoes and avocados.”

Florida tropicals are popular within the state’s boundaries, but their reach goes far beyond that.

“We have independent grocers in Southern California that really, really get behind it,” he said.
 
While some of the demand for a commodity like mamey sapote is tied to the Hispanic demographic, he said, other tropical varieties find appeal as well.

“The Mexican consumer really takes a lot of mamey sapote and then once you’re offering them mamey, they’ll look at some of the other things that are available,” he said. 

“Ultimately, they have plenty of supply from Vietnam for dragon fruit but it’s irradiated — so if you can offer the customer a better value for non-irradiated fruits, with three days of transit, then they’ll get behind it.”

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