Rise of tropicals mirrors changing U.S. demographics
There was a time not long ago when grocery stores didn’t think much about tropical produce, dedicating one small section to a few select items. But that is definitely not the case in 2019, when tropical produce is occupying a larger percentage of the produce aisle.
The growth in demand for tropical fruits can be attributed to rising consumer incomes and an increasing consumer awareness of the health benefits of these items. Additionally, the rise of TV chefs using tropical produce items in their innovative menus has added to the craze, as these flavors are adding new takes to old favorites.
According to the latest U.S. Census, Hispanics and Asian Americans are experiencing the highest growth rate in the country (142 percent and 167 percent percent, respectively) between 2010 and 2050, and these cultures are big consumers of tropical fruit.
Whether it’s avocados, mangos, lychees, longan, guava, mamey, starfruit or dragon fruit, demand for tropical produce is on the rise.
Desiree Pardo Morales, vice president of Miami, FL-based WP Produce Corp., which specializes in green skin avocados, Haitian mangos, malanga, yuca, chayote, plantains, oriental items and more, said the company is excited that tropicals continue to be a growth phenomenon in produce aisles and on foodservice menus.
“Tropicals are now and will continue to be a part of people’s everyday diet,” she said. “We have recipe cards and informational sheets about our Desbry tropical produce on our website and Instagram page and distribute these at shows.”
Eddie Caram, general manager of New Limeco LLC, based in Princeton, FL, would like to see stores concentrate on advertising tropicals as regular products throughout the year and not just showcase them as specialty items. Still, for the most part, he believes retailers do a good job calling attention to the items in stores today.
“That’s definitely something that has changed over the years as tropical produce is becoming more recognized,” he said. “It’s always good to see how the category continues to increase year after year.”
Louie Carricarte, president and owner of Unity Groves, based in Homestead, FL, agreed that a lot has changed with tropicals in just the last decade.
“Take lychees for example,” he said. “We are a larger grower of those, and everyone knows what they are now, but seven or eight years ago, no one knew,” he said. “Dragon fruit is another example. It’s something that everyone wants and you can’t grow enough of, but 10 years ago it was practically invisible in the stores and no one was buying.”
The biggest challenge for U.S.-based companies growing tropicals, Carricarte said, is foreign competition.
“It definitely hurts with the specialty crops,” he said. “It can be hard to compete because of wages and we have to follow every rule. We believe we have better products — they are fresher and safer — but sometimes that’s not enough. But we just get our products out there and see the demand for them, which is great for the industry.”