Tropical fruits have been a bright spot, literally and figuratively, in consumers’ shopping baskets the past several months.
Beyond offering vibrant color and taste in contrast to winter’s mostly monochromatic palettes—outside the window and on comfort food-heavy plates—tropical fruits have been a go-to for consumers seeking out vitamin-rich foods to support immune health.
Citrus and tropical fruits saw growth in dollar sales and volume for the one-year period ending in late January, “which may be linked to customers prioritizing their immune systems,” says Eileen O’Leary, director of insights and analytics for the Produce Marketing Association (PMA), citing IRI data.
“The strength of citrus is tremendous,” Jonna Parker, IRI’s team lead for fresh, said in the company’s January produce update. Oranges and lemons both posted double-digit percentage gains in dollar sales from the second quarter of 2020 onward through the end of the year, with strong momentum continuing in January. Dollar sales for oranges—No. 7 among all fruits in dollar sales—were up 23.5% in the fourth quarter of 2020 and 19.5%, to $146 million, in January.
Citrus fruit dollar sales overall were up 13.1% year over year at the start of 2021, demonstrating consumers’ “consistent turn toward foods they perceive to help live healthier lifestyles,” Parker said.
Pineapples, which—along with papayas, a smaller but growing tropical-fruit player—contain more vitamin C per serving than oranges, also saw a strong opening to the year. Pineapple sales were up 13.4% in January vs. the year-ago period to $72 million.
“Offering high vitamin C content, fiber and a number of other valuable nutrients, pineapples are a great choice for families looking to make good food choices,” pineapple purveyor Chestnut Hill Farms noted in a market-forecast blog post on its website. “Thoughtful strategy that showcases the fruit’s nutritional benefit can help drive sales in 2021,” the Coral Gables, Fla.-based company added.
One prime opportunity to play up tropical fruits? Salsas, say both Chestnut Hill and PMA. Fruit salsas are outpacing even refrigerated dips, a comfort-food favorite, in the deli, says O’Leary of PMA. Fruit salsa sales rose 15.5% in dollars and 13.6% in volume for the year ending in January.
For consumers, the appeal is multifaceted: Fruit salsas offer the bright, out-of-the-ordinary flavors of tropical fruits without the slicing and chopping requirements that steer some shoppers away from adding whole tropical fruits to their cart. Their versatility as a marinade for center-of-plate proteins and kid-friendly sweeter flavors can further enhance interest.
Whether with prepared fresh-fruit selections or whole fruits, highlighting easy uses, flavor pairings and meal ideas is a big, not fully realized opportunity for retailers, O’Leary says. Jessica Bohlman of the National Mango Board notes that the board is working with its retail partners this year to merchandise mangoes with seasonal favorite fruits year-round—citrus in the winter and stone fruits in the summer, as well as avocados year-round to promote cross-shopping.
Pairing and upselling are all the more important online, where sales of fresh fruits lag those of shelf-stable products, O’Leary says. “Consumers often purchase fresh produce on in-store merchandising,” O’Leary says. Without the benefit of a standout physical display, smaller-volume tropical fruits may languish online as consumers seek out their fresh-fruit go-tos: apples, bananas and berries. Offering suggested uses, pairings and easy recipes for tropical fruits can help overcome online shoppers’ fresh-fruit inertia and get more tropical selections into baskets.
“Applying the same concept [as in stores] in a digital platform can substantially increase demand for fresh produce, including tropical fruits,” O’Leary says.
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