Educating consumers on different varieties and uses can lead to repeat business.
Americans love mangos for lots of reasons — their freshness, taste, consistency, variety, color, nutrition, and because they are almost always in season somewhere.
Enticing consumers to buy in large volumes then becomes a matter of presenting mangos in an inviting matter. But while quality is a given, and strong merchandising is the norm, getting more information into the heads of consumers and retailers alike remains a never-ending challenge.
“We find that educating consumers on different mango varieties and their differences, as well as what they can be used for, is the biggest challenge,” says Michael Napolitano, sales manager for HLB Specialties in Fort Lauderdale, FL. “We also see hesitation from consumers to try mangos when they have previously had one and may not have had a good experience. For example, having an unripe mango that lacks the flavor and sweetness of a ripe fruit may deter future purchases.”
“Communication plays an important role in advising retailers when is the best time to promote,” notes Tom Hall, sales manager for Freska Produce International LLC in Oxnard, CA, “but again, they don’t always want to promote when we need them to promote. I am sure there is a variety of factors that play into their decision-making.”
Mangos play an important role not only in traditional recipes, says Ronnie Cohen, the principal of Vision Import Group in Hackensack, NJ, but also as “a playful substitute in recipes with other more traditional ingredients. Fruit has tremendous versatility.”
The story of mangos begins with their variety, something consumers love more than nearly anything else. Bob Sickles, the third-generation owner of Sickles Market in Little Silver, NJ, says he “loves mangos. I think they are the second-largest seller in the world next to bananas.” First and foremost, he emphasizes, “variety matters. The most common, yet least palatable, is the Tommy Atkins variety. Their flavor is fair at best, and they are very fibrous. Unfortunately, they are very red and pretty on the outside, hence more acceptable to North American shoppers.”
Among the top varieties in Sickles’ view are:
- Kent, which comes from South America, California and Mexico. “Fantastic flavor when fully ripe, and the flesh is smooth as silk with no fiber. Their skin is mostly green to yellow with occasional orange blush. It is a personal favorite.” Stores that work to popularize this variety, he says, will have “great success. Cutting them up into cups for sale can more than double your return. Customers will repeat-buy often when you do this correctly. This is one of the best fruits in the world.”
- Keitt. “Similar to Kents, maybe a bit smaller,” says Sickles. “All the same characteristics. Not quite as available as Kents. There is a lot grown in Puerto Rico.”
- Champagne, or Ataulfo or Haitians. “Now officially proclaimed the ‘Honey Mango’ by the National Mango Board,” says Sickles.
Consumers drive what retailers put on the shelves with their purchasing decisions and requests, points out Napolitano, “so while different varieties are beginning to become available, education and sampling is key to continuing growth and change. While Tommy Atkins is the most prevalent variety available, there are so many others that are far superior in taste and texture.”
Tommy Atkins is the top variety in the United States, suggests Melissa Hartmann De Barros, HLB’s director of communications. “However, with further education, consumers will surely find there are many other varieties with great and unique flavors and textures.”
The Nam Doc Mai mango cultivar “is such an example,” continues Napolitano, “and we have started to see it being available in stores. It is firm, sweet, aromatic and fiberless, which makes it an excellent eating experience. However, I’ve only seen it at an independent ethnic supermarket here in South Florida.”
Cohen of Vision Import adds: “Within the current countries of origin, I see only Palmers making any kind of headway. Brazil is the major supplier during their season, and small quantities also are being received from Peru and Puerto Rico.”
According to Hall, Freska only ships a few commercial varieties into the United States: Tommys, Kents, Hadens, Keitts and Ataulfos, which naturally vary throughout the time of year and based on their area of production. “We also see some Haitian Francis variety, but it is a small window. There are a few other varieties that come in, but again just very small volumes.”
Up And Coming
Mangos “are an up-and-coming fruit in North America,” says Sickles. “As better shipping is implemented, it will only become more so.” When properly ripened and served, he adds, it is “one of the tastiest fruits in the world. Parents just need to get good ones in kids’ mouths, and they will be irresistible. They are very healthy.” They also have “a fair amount of sugar,” he says, “and diabetics should eat carefully.”
Sickles Market has had what its owner calls “very positive results when we have the right variety, ripen properly and demo. It is very important to teach everyone to not pay attention to color … Mangos have the potential to be the Honeycrisp apple of tropical fruits.”
Sickles says some of the most important practices when it comes to selling mangos are:
- Have ripe and firm fruit.
- Teach staff about the varieties.
- Sell as a cut-fruit item and be sure they are ripe because you may sell more cut than whole, at a bigger margin.
- Demo ripe, cut mangos.
- Demo how to cut a mango.
- Have recipes available. “Mangos are excellent with all fruits, but especially tropicals, citrus and melons.”
- Do not refrigerate until ripe.
- Always have an excess of ripe product on hand. “If too many, then increase sampling.”
- Bigger mangos yield more fruit.
Putting mangos in front of shoppers’ eyes in an attractive way is key.
HLB’s Hartmann De Barros says retailers would benefit from providing signage, recipe cards, proper labeling of different varieties, and informational signage/flyers with the varietal differences and traits. “Stocking ripe and ready-to-eat product is also key, as consumers don’t want to delay their experience by having to wait several days before being able to eat the fruit.” To overcome shrink issues with ripe product, she recommends, “trying fresh-cuts or increasing purchases through sampling.”
The bigger the display and signage, the more attention and ultimately sales will be driven toward mangos. That said, retailers need to understand their store, region and customer base intimately to make this decision, according to Napolitano. “Whatever each specific retailer thinks are an optimal size for their location and average sales, build it a bit bigger to drive increased consumption.”
Cross-merchandising with other tropical fruits such as papaya, dragon fruit, pineapple and others will drive sales in all categories, according to HLB’s management team. “Consider smoothie or other recipe cards, which encourage consumers to mix and match purchases among the tropical fruit category,” suggests Hartmann De Barros.
Consumers tend to buy for appearance, says Napolitano, “so a bright, shiny piece of fruit will draw a consumer in. If the flavor is not there, they will not repeat purchase. This is why sampling and education are key, especially for varieties that may not be bright and colorful.”
Mangos are available year-round, with different varieties being more available at different times of year, says Hartmann De Barros. “Changing signage with the seasonality of varieties is a great way to make consumers aware.”
Vision Import’s Cohen says he views the handling of fruit through the supply change, and ultimately onto the store displays, as the greatest challenge. The solution, he adds, is obvious. “Continue getting educated on best-handling practices. NMB (the National Mango Board) has a lot of resources, so this is a good place to start.”
How best to construct displays varies from store to store and season to season, says Cohen, depending on customer base as well as country of origin and variety. “When being promoted, it’s best to be up front with a large display at the entrance of the department and to cross-merchandise whenever possible.”
Color, of course, plays an important role. As Cohen explains, “We in the industry have been trying to educate consumers that although blush color is appealing, they need to know that some varieties are more inherent than others, such as Tommy Atkins for their red blush. But others are greener, and that should not necessarily affect a consumer from buying or not. So, educating consumers will continue to be a priority.”
There is what Freska’s Hall describes as “this repetitive nature with promotional timeframes and periods, where mangos only seem to get real attention or focus during certain times of the year. But those dates don’t always coincide with when we as an industry may need the pushes, and there can be this disconnect, which cause challenges.
Freska’s management prefers end caps and bins for mangos. “Especially bins that have mangos or mango designs on them,” says Hall. “Retailers at times tend to shrink them back into baskets or give them a real small space in the produce aisles.” The optimal location, he adds, is “right in front as you walk into the produce section. It grabs your attention right off the block with a big sign and POS material associated with it.”
Hall says that, overall, the industry continues to see gains in the mango category throughout the United States. “There, of course, is still a lot of room for improvement in certain areas of this country, but mangos have continued to trend higher in consumption every year and are showing steady growth in the produce category of most retailers.”
Mangos still have a way to go to reach the ultimate goal of being the No. 1 item in the produce department, says Hall, “but we are definitely working hard to achieve that goal.”
Merchandising and marketing mangos
“One of our overarching goals at the National Mango Board is to work with the industry and our retail partners to ensure that the product the consumer receives is of the best quality possible,” explains Tammy Wiard, its retail program manager, based in Orlando, FL. “We do this through education for our partners on temperature management and best practices for ripening.”
The NMB has online training guides customized for the warehouse team, the store team and corporate management. It also has an outside consultant who speaks with many of its retail partners regarding the “science side” of ripening mangos.
Mangos are “the most popular fruit in the world,” says Valda Coryat, NMB’s director of marketing. “Retailers can continue to build their sales by carrying multiple varieties and sizes.”
Value-added, or fresh-cut mangos, continue to grow with the advancements and focus on ripening. Fresh-cut mangos are ranked eighth in all of fresh-cut fruit, according to the NMB. Adding fresh-cut mangos as an enhancement to dishes such as salsa and guacamole can intensify an everyday dish into something special.
In the summer, sales thrive when mangos are adjacent to stone fruit. As retailers switch their produce sets from summer to fall, it can sometimes prove to be a challenge in determining where to put mangos. The Board’s recommendation for the fall/winter period is to place mangos with citrus.
“It is important to keep mangos in a highly visible area in the produce section. Mangos are mainstream fruit and need a permanent home where consumers can consistently find them. Although the mango varieties come in different colors, some more red or green than others, some are yellow, this is not an indication of ripeness. A mango can be red, yellow or green-skinned and still be ripe.
The available mango varieties shift as the crop moves through each growing country and region. This natural flow means consumers will be exposed to different varieties throughout the year. The top six commercialized mango varieties in the market are Honey, Francis, Haden, Keitt, Kent and Tommy Atkins.
Fall tailgating and grilling are food occasions where mangos have been under-utilized, says Wiard. “Mangos add a tasty and colorful addition to holiday meals and desserts.”
Retailers are also adding displays in the front of their produce department. Additionally, mango bins offered through the NMB have gained a lot of retailer excitement and engagement, particularly with the organization’s new brand message, “Super Fun Superfruit.” NMB will distribute thousands of bins this year to many of its retail partners nationwide.
Themed mango displays “are always a big hit,” says Wiard. “For example, choose an NMB recipe, and ask your employees to group the ingredients in store. This will help shoppers pick up everything they need for the recipe, a great meal solution for the family on-the-go.” While it sounds simple, this strategy “leads to colorful displays that draw in shoppers by telling a story and offering a solution.”
Secondary displays outside of the produce department are another way to generate awareness and trial of mangos. Retailers can consider grouping the mangos by size and/or ripeness. This gives the consumer additional options based on their purchase needs.
“We’ve seen some beautiful displays that combine whole mangos alongside fresh-cut mango,” says Wiard, “showing the versatility and freshness of mangos.” Stores can benefit from having a registered dietitian on site to educate and confidently discuss the health benefits of mangos with employees and consumers.