Tropical fruits have always played a significant role in my life. I grew up in Ecuador and traveled daily on miles of roads that were surrounded by banana, mango, and pineapple plantations. Today, my career in the produce industry grants me the privilege of working with growers and customers as we aim to provide the best tropical experience to consumers.
What makes the tropicals category so exciting to me is its composition of over 30 commodities—and the wide range of characteristics they bring to the table. For example, some items are established in the marketplace, such as limes; others are still emerging, such as pomegranates. Several commodities are nomadic, with a variety of growing regions and seasons, like mangos, and others are static, like pineapples. Some commodities have a pronounced seasonality curve, such as mangos, while others typically maintain steady supply, like papayas.
Growth in Tropicals
Beyond the variety in items, the tropicals category is exciting because of how quickly it’s growing. It contributes $3.9B in annual sales to the produce department. The category has grown over the past five years, up 48% in dollars and around that same percentage growth in volume1. That’s huge growth for a category that isn’t necessarily mainstream—especially when you consider the fact that some of the commodities included in the category still aren’t completely familiar to consumers.
U.S. Demographics and Tropicals
A number of factors are likely contributing to the growth in the tropicals category, including a shift in demographics. A larger percentage of the U.S. population is now comprised of Hispanic and Asian consumers who have a higher propensity to purchase tropical commodities. In addition, consumers in general are becoming more involved and adventurous in their food choices. As the consumer trends continue to focus on health and wellness through increased fresh produce consumption, many consumers are looking for items outside of their routine purchases to add interest and excitement to their plates. The tropicals category aligns well with these desires.
Growth in Lesser-Known Commodities
While the four core commodities in the category—avocados, pineapples, mangos, limes—comprise 90% of tropical sales, the remaining 10% is composed by over 20 commodities. This 10% segment is showing an aggressive double-digit growth rate1.
The key to selling emerging items is consumer awareness. Sampling these items during high traffic times, combined with signage that provides product selection tips and usage ideas, will drive incremental sales.
Demographics cannot be ignored and, hence, regional anomalies are a factor. For example, cactus pear and guava index higher in the West and South Central areas of the United States, whereas starfruit and dragon fruit index higher in the Southeast. Jackfruit has higher penetration in the North Central and Northeast. In the case of papayas, 60% of volume consumed is concentrated in five cities: Los Angeles, Houston, Miami, Dallas, and New York City1.
As shoppers continue to diversify the fruits they bring into their houses, retailers struggle with knowing which items to carry. It’s important to understand regional anomalies within the category to balance high turns while minimizing shrink to optimize sales and meet consumer demand.
I think tropicals will continue to be a fast-growing category that retailers should monitor closely.
1. IRI Freshlook, Total U.S.