It’s mid-winter. Local produce is in the doldrums and spring favorites are a ways away.

Tropicals are a way to bring some excitement to the department.

Citrus may dominate in the winter, but retailers can really mix up their department with a diverse assortment of exotic and tropical produce, says Robert Schueller, director of public relations for Melissa’s World Variety Produce, Los Angeles.

Offering exotic and tropical fruits can help you differentiate yourself from the retailer down the street, broaden your appeal to a wider demographic and offer a one-stop shop.

Winter oasisIt’s also a way to enhance your store’s visual appeal, Schueller says.

“Winter is the time when people make New Year’s resolutions to eat healthier and eat more produce,” Schueller says. “Offer the selection to help consumers along.”

Mary Ostlund, marketing director for Brooks Tropicals, Homestead, Fla., says many tropicals are just hitting their peak in February.

“You can always tell when red Florida guava is in the produce aisle; their great aroma beckons,” Ostlund says. “Juicy uniq fruits have revved up their season, and our Caribbean Red papayas have ramped up to volumes our customers have been waiting for.”

Uniq fruits have a tangerine/grapefruit flavor and are easy to peel, making them perfect for lunches and snacks.


Don’t fear the shrink

Ostlund offers advice for retailers to merchandise tropicals with less shrink.

“Think of tropicals in concentric circles,” she says. “The innermost circle are the must-haves, the fruits a tropical buyer will put first in their basket: avocados, mangoes and papayas.”

These must-haves give a good entry point for shoppers who might not realize they’re even shopping for tropicals. These core items can attract consumers to other more exotic items.

“The next circle out are tropical fruits that earned places into more conventional dishes but have been making names for themselves by themselves,” Ostlund says. This includes hot peppers, limes, key limes, starfruit and ginger.

“These tropicals find homes in a variety of places in your produce aisle,” she says. “Provide information about how these can add a splash of the tropics to dishes, and you’ll increase frequency of purchases.”

The next steps take off the tropical merchandising training wheels.

“Showing a wide variety is good; growing depth is part of your process,” Ostlund says. “This includes green papayas, guava, passion fruit, lychees, uniq fruit, kumquats, calabaza, plantains and aloe, to name a few.”

Consumers want to eat them, but they may not be familiar with them. Providing recipes and menu ideas definitely help with this selection, Ostlund says.

The last circle of Ostlund’s merchandising secret beckons the core tropical shopper and includes roots.

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“With Hispanic and Asian customers, these are the potatoes of their cuisine,” she says. This includes malanga, yucca, boniato, chayote, eddos and yams. “Don’t be surprised at how well the individual tastes for each of these is known and loved. With shrink not an overriding concern in this circle, you should probably try.”


Back to school

Frieda’s Inc. has a way to help consumers get more familiar with tropical produce.

The Los Alamitos, Calif.-based company sends consumers to Produce University right in their own stores.

“This is something retailers can partner with us, and we train them in all of the different products and create an in-store sampling event that will allow them to interact with shoppers,” says Cindy Arora, communications manager. “It’s proven to be a successful and fun way to get consumers involved, while also having retailers become known for their expertise in produce.”


Mango power

The Orlando, Fla.-based National Mango Board does a variety of retail promotions throughout the year and offers materials for retailers to build displays and merchandise mangoes in their departments.

Lucy Keith, a public relations representative for the board, says the organization also plans to host a retail and importer web seminar in April focused on proper handling and ripening.

The “Mango Handling and Ripening Webinar for Retailers and Importers” is scheduled for April 4 at 4 p.m. EST.