( Frieda's Inc. )

Mangoes and avocados have enjoyed explosive growth in the U.S. market, moving from exotic specialties to mainstream items.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, per capita consumption of avocados increased from just 1.1 pounds in 1970 to seven pounds in 2014. Avocados ranked 11th on The Packer’s 2017 Fresh Trends list of top 20 fruits.

Mango consumption, meanwhile, spiked from 1.7 pounds per capita in 2000 to 2.7 pounds in 2013.

The question is, which tropical item will be the next big thing?

“The millennials and Generation Z are looking for new items and are willing to pick up more niche items to try,” said Michael Warren, president of Central American Produce Inc., Pompano Beach, Fla.

Partner and executive vice president Jessie Capote said J&C Tropicals, Miami, has experienced “unbelievable growth” in its dragon fruit program. The company has domestic supply from Florida from June through November and from Vietnam December through April. Capote said J&C expects to grow more than 1.5 million pounds in Florida this year, which is its sixth season in the deal.

“We used to not carry it at all,” he said. “Growth has been staggering.”

Capote said Florida, as an industry, has more than 1,000 acres of dragon fruit.

Alex Jackson Berkley, senior account manager for Frieda’s Inc., Los Alamitos, Calif., said year-round supplies of white-flesh and red-flesh varieties have allowed retailers and restaurants to carry dragon fruit at affordable prices.

Robert Schueller, director of public relations for Los Angeles-based World Variety Produce, which markets under the Melissa’s label, said demand for dragon fruit has increased 18% in the past year. The company sources from California August to November and Vietnam the rest of the year.

Jackson Berkley also is optimistic about jackfruit, which she said is growing rapidly in foodservice and retail.

“It made a bold entrance into the market, and will continue to grow as chefs find new ways to use it,” she said.

Plantains have long had a following among certain groups, but Rick Feighery, vice president of sales for Philadelphia-based Procacci Bros. Sales Corp., said the fruit is gaining traction beyond those demographics.

“It’s picking up, and there’s room for more growth,” he said.

Feighery said specialty items face an easier path to mainstream status in an era of smartphones and high speed internet than they did in the past.

“The availability of information is incredible,” he said. “People can Google an item in the store and have 10 recipes on their phone in five seconds.”

The key to making an exotic item a mainstream product is educating consumers how to select, handle and use it.

Mary Ostlund, director of marketing for Brooks Tropicals LLC, Homestead, Fla., said tropical produce is still new to many consumers, who may not know how to prepare it. Brooks’ web page with instructions for cutting papayas gets more than 7,000 visitors each year, she said.

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