( Courtesy World Variety Produce )

Dragon fruit continues to lead the tropical pack, with gains of 21% in the past three months, according to Robert Schueller, director of public relations for Los Angeles-based Melissa’s World Variety Produce.   

Though its pink scales and crisp white or red flesh make this tropical fruit truly exotic, the smaller yellow dragon fruit from Ecuador, shaped like a pine cone, may be the best, and sweetest, variety out there, said Schueller. 

Alex Berkley, sales manager for Frieda’s Inc., Los Alamitos, Calif., also sees the dragon fruit category expanding, especially the yellow variety.

“Frieda’s continues to grow our market share,” said Berkley, “growing three times the rate of the total category.”

The success of the red dragon fruit is due partly to its wide availability, Schueller said. It’s grown in Florida, Honduras, California, Israel and Vietnam, which offers a year-round supply.

The trendy fruit is popular in drinks, frozen yogurt and acai bowls, he said.

Consumers are also intrigued by the dragon fruit grown in South Florida, available now, said Mary Ostlund, marketing director for Homestead, Fla.-based Brooks Tropicals Inc., along with Florida-grown passionfruit and starfruit. 

Beyond the curious names, “it’s the colors and shapes not seen elsewhere in the produce aisle that have extended the consumer’s reach in the tropical aisle and explain the first drop in the shopping cart,” said Ostlund.

What keeps customers coming back, she said, is the exotic flavor of tropical fruit, perfect for snacks, fruit salads and garnishes.

Ostlund is also promoting Brooks’ large SlimCados, which brown more slowly than other avocados, making them ideal for guacamole. Caribbean red papayas are also selling well, she said. 

In the immunity-boosting category, consumers are becoming more aware of the health benefits of fresh ginger and turmeric and learning to prepare them, said Katiana Valdes, marketing director of Crystal Valley Foods in Miami. 

As part of its Super Foods program, Melissa’s rolled out a 1-pound “Immunity Booster” clamshell in March containing fresh ginger and turmeric. The package advises adding citrus juice to make healthy juice shots at home. 

Young coconuts are also gaining in popularity with their easy-open “spout” and pure, refreshing juice crammed with vitamins and minerals.

Melissa’s EZ Open Sweet Young Coconut, introduced late last fall complete with a straw, is now available year-round from Thailand, said Schueller.

“Here’s a truly natural drink, still in the packaging that nature provides, with absolutely no added sugars, flavorings or preservatives,” he said. 

Berkley said Frieda’s Young Coconuts are growing 16 times faster than the category. 

Top 10 Tropical Fruit with % gains in the last three months:

  1. Dragon Fruit (white flesh, red flesh and yellow) - 21%
  2. Red Caribbean Papaya - 17%
  3. Jackfruit - 9%
  4. Cherimoya - 12%
  5. Kiwano Melon - 3%
  6. Passion Fruit - 14%
  7. Mango - 18%
  8. Young Coconut - 11%
  9. Rambutan - 13% 
  10. Strawberry Papaya - 9%