With foodservice and retail trends broadly pointing to greater consumption of tropical fruits and vegetables, marketers say retailers who want to quicken that momentum have numerous options.

Demand for tropicals varies by region, with southern and coastal areas showing better demand for tropical products than Midwest states, said Jim Thornburg, West Virginia-based retail consultant.

The Packer’s Fresh Trends data backs up that point, with 28% of Western region consumers purchasing mangoes in the past year, compared with 18% in the Midwest, 20% for the South and 26% for the Northeast.

You have to give it away to get in people’s mouth and once you do that, you can get on to a more normal business model.

Cooking shows and food sections of newspapers can spur demand for tropical products, he said.

Retailers could spur greater demand for tropical products, Thornburg said, by sampling product in the store.

Pineapple marketers invested in sampling with the gold variety and that has paid off for them, he said.

“You have to give it away to get in people’s mouth and once you do that, you can get on to a more normal business model,” Thornburg said.

Education is the most powerful tool retailers can employ in order to increase sales of tropical or exotic fruits, said Melissa Hartmann de Barros, director of communications for HLB Specialties, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

“We realize that doing tastings is costly, so we encourage stores to at least have POS material that informs about what that strange new fruit is,” she said.

“The flier or brochure should have the flavor profile, how to recognize a ripe fruit, some nutritional info, a small sentence on the origin of the item, and a QR code that leads the shopper to the store’s website where all this information is also available.”

Packaging can help spur sales, she said.

“Innovative packaging paired with novelty items can create the dynamics that the consumers are looking for to discover and try new items,” Hartmann de Barros said. “Rambutan and pitaya are items where we see lots of growth potential precisely due to this new dynamic.”

Hotels and restaurants have helped make papayas and mangoes common items in recipes and helped raise their profile at supermarkets.

More retailers are implementing a special section for exotic fruits and vegetables, said Isabel Hurtado, general manager of Miami-based Ecoripe Tropicals.

Trends in retail merchandising of tropicals include points of differentiation in the store, appealing to multicultural consumers and targeting higher-end consumers, said Robert Schueller, director of public relations for Los Angeles-based World Variety Produce, which markets the Melissa’s brand.

Fresh Trends 2018 research generally shows that consumers with high incomes are heavier consumers of tropical produce.

For example, 14% of consumers with a household income over $100,000 said they purchased papayas, compared with 9% of consumers under $25,000 per year and 6% of consumers with household incomes of $25,000 to $50,000.

Schueller said retailers can use ad promotions to raise awareness of tropicals. Focusing on culinary uses for tropical products and offering sampling for new items also is effective, he said.


Building sales

The evolution of consumer tastes is opening new markets, one marketer said.

“What was a specialty last year is mainstream this year,” said Mary Ostlund, director of marketing for Homestead, Fla.-based Brooks Tropicals Inc.

“Whether it’s a consumer wanting to eat healthier or a consumer looking for produce of their native cuisine, tropicals deliver.”

She said constantly testing what consumers want can build long-term sales.

Retailers can sell more tropical produce by giving it visibility throughout the department and the entire store, Ostlund said.

“Within the produce department, theme displays get some excitement with select tropicals added,” she said.

Baskets of fruit near yogurt invite consumers to try new tropical items, she said.

If retailers put bananas in the cereal aisle, Ostlund suggests giving the fruit some company with star fruit and passion fruit as cereal toppers.

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