Tropical fruits see strong demandTropical fruit is gaining in popularity, shippers report.

"Retailers are seeing increased consumer interest in carrying these items because they"re being asked for them," said Eddie Caram, general manager of the Princeton, Fla.-based New Limeco LLC.



While Peru mango production ended in early April, Mexican harvesting started in mid-February with ataulfos and in early March with tommy atkins varieties, said Gary Clevenger, managing member and co-founder of Oxnard, Calif.-based Freska Produce International LLC.

Mexican production runs throughout the summer and later shifts in to the hadens and kents.

"For the last three years, Mexico has set volume records every year," Clevenger said. "I don"t expect this season to be any different. There will be plenty of promotional opportunities coming up beginning in April through July and even into August. Last year, the deal went almost into October."

Mango demand is growing, said Robert Schueller, director of public relations for the Los Angeles-based World Variety Produce Inc., which markets under the Melissa"s brand.

"Though mangoes soar as the No. 1 exotic and tropical fruit in the U.S., many Americans haven"t tried them," he said.



The Homestead, Fla.-based Brooks Tropicals LLC harvests Belize papaya.

Abnormally high rainfall cut production during the second half of 2013, said Bill Brindle, Brooks" vice president of sales management.

"Overall demand is strong and consistent," he said. "Retailers are realizing ripe and ready-to-eat is very important. They"re also realizing they need to put a reasonable amount of product on the shelves. Two or three papaya and starfruit won"t get you any sales. They have to have decent-sized displays to attract customers."

While volume ships throughout the year, product can sometimes become smaller in November, said Caram of New Limeco, which ships from Guatemala.

"Demand has been good and our sales to a lot of national chain stores have been great," he said. "Prices are usually good in the spring."



Pineapple demand remains strong, said Dennis Christou, vice president of marketing for Del Monte Fresh Produce NA Inc., Coral Gables, Fla.

Higher demographics are helping demand, he said.

"For pineapples, the most prevalent customer still includes high-income consumers in multiple-person households," Christou said. "The more common tropical fruit like Del Monte bananas and Del Monte Gold Extra Sweet pineapples are universally appealing and are considered a staple in most American diets. "

Melissa"s offers conventional and organic South African baby pineapples.

The single-sized fruit don"t require coring and are growing in popularity with single households, Schueller said.


Other fruit

Other tropical fruit, including starfruit, coconuts and dragon fruit, are experiencing high demand, Schueller said.

"Publicity from places like the TV Food Network has played a huge role in helping people incorporate more of these fruits into meals," he said. "Most of these items are known for eating out of hand, but there are different things one can do to add texture, flavor and color to tropical fruit salads. The tropicals add color, crispness and crunch to many dishes."

While lychee remains a seasonal item, rambutan is sold throughout the year and are increasingly hitting more retail shelves, Schueller said.

Though a Hispanic staple, guava is continuing to cross over into American palettes, he said.

Finger limes have also experienced double-digit sales increases, Schueller said.


South Florida production

South Florida"s tropicals generally begin harvesting in late May in time for the commencement of the seasonal heavy rains.

Those rains help size and ripen the passion fruit, thai and red guava, dragon fruit, starfruit and lychee, said Peter Leifermann, Brooks" director of sales and fruit procurement.

Passion fruit should be in full production throughout May and June with sporadic production until January, he said, while he expects both varieties of guava to be strong through the summer.

Dragon fruit should see "generous availability" this season after it begins harvesting in early June while July and August should bring large volumes of starfruit.

On lychee, Leifermann said he expects another year of light May and June production.

Mamey sapote started harvesting in mid-March but volume typically increases in June.