Mangos are on track for robust growth in 2021 as Mexican imports start shipping and market momentum continues to build.
Originally printed in the February 2021 issue of Produce Business.
Each year, Mexican mangos start arriving in U.S. produce departments in late winter, giving them a healthy head start over many other popular fruits with growing seasons beginning later in the year. Mango shipments from Mexico typically continue through early fall.
“The Mexican mango season started the first week of January and is expected to run through the end of September — potentially into October,” says Leo Ortega, director of research at the National Mango Board (NMB), based in Orlando, FL.
“The biggest thing people talk about this time of year is the weather, and it’s normally not a favorable conversation in many parts of the country,” observes Chris Ciruli, chief operations officer for Ciruli Brothers, LLC, based in Tubac, AZ. Ciruli Brothers supplies several varieties of Mexican mangos throughout the growing season, featuring the Ataulfo, or Honey, variety the company markets under the trademarked Champagne brand name.
“You’re trying to bring customers into produce departments at this time of year, and typically they’re going to see a lot of other fruit that’s been on a boat for a long time. You want them to see massive mango displays starting the first part of March when you’re not competing with other fruits.
“What we’re trying to do with the Champagne mango is to have a piece of fruit that turns from green to yellow and makes you think of springtime and sun. It’s going to make you feel warmer inside.”
According to Luis Cintron, vice president of procurement for J&C Tropicals, based in Doral, FL, “As more mangos are being farmed around the world, we have the entire 52 weeks of the year covered. Mexico makes up a big part of the supply because they have a long growing season, starting in the southern states and moving north.”
“The percentage can change in any given year,” notes NMB’s communications manager, Jessica Bohlman, “but on average, 65% of all mangos sold in the U.S. are produced in Mexico.”
Expect Continued Growth in Demand
Demand for mangos in all forms and multiple varieties has been growing steadily for years, and the growth is expected to continue.
“We are seeing a significant increase in demand for ripened/ready-to-eat and fresh-cut mango,” says Ortega. “The first part of the Mexican season — up to mid-June — is expected to be about 12% higher than the previous season, with an estimated volume of about 42 million boxes. That’s 11% higher than the average volume over the five-year span from 2016 through 2020.”
The steadily growing demand for mangos in the U.S. has been fueled, at least in part, by the work of the NMB. “The board has been working to increase demand for mangos since its inception in 2005,” says Bohlman. “Our promotion programs have contributed to increasing consumption from 1.88 pounds to 3.25 pounds per capita in the U.S., which is a 73% increase since 2005.”
“When I started in this industry 20 years ago,” recalls Ciruli, “we were at about a half pound of consumption per person per year, and less than a third of the population knew what a mango was. Now we’re surpassing three pounds per person, and you have consumers learning there are different varieties.”
“Mangos are making their mark on American culture, as evidenced by the tremendous growth of mangos on restaurant menus and the explosion of new mango products in the marketplace,” Bohlman adds. “Consumers who buy them enjoy the burst of flavor they add to all kinds of dishes. In addition to their taste, mangos are a true superfruit containing more than 20 different vitamins and minerals, including Vitamin C, folate, copper and fiber.”
“Consumers love the sweet taste of mangos, as well as the Vitamin C and fiber,” agrees Daniel Ibarra, president of Splendid by Porvenir LLC, based in Nogales, AZ. “They love how this sugar is natural and not harmful. They see mangos as a treat that’s good for you.”
“It’s in our favor that two of the populations exploding in the United States are Hispanic and Asian — both cultures that have mangos as part of their cuisine,” notes Ciruli. “With consumers of all cultures, we feel we’ve made some great strides as the National Mango Board has helped introduce different varieties. There’s still a tremendous way to go, with a large potential for market growth.”
Give Customers a Choice
While some retailers stock only one type of mango at a time, many North American produce shoppers have become accustomed to having their choice of at least two varietals on any given trip to the grocery store.
“The most popular Mexican mango varieties in the United States, based on import volumes, are Tommy Atkins, Ataulfo, Kent, Keitt and Haden,” says Bohlman. “At some point during the season, produce departments will typically carry one or more of these five varieties as they are available.”
The NMB’s most recent Mexican crop report shows Tommy Atkins mangos at 40% of import volume, Ataulfo/Honey at 27%, Kent at 19% and Keitt at 11%. All other varieties make up the remaining 3% of total volume.
“Mexico does export other varieties,” notes Ortega, “but with limited volume. Those five most popular varieties are what are commercially available.”
“There are more than 2,000 types of mangos in the world, but there hasn’t been a new variety of mango to come to the U.S. in any volume in the past several decades,” says Ciruli. “Yes, there are crosses and a few specialty varieties like Nam Doc Mai being grown in Mexico, but there are not a lot of growers going to off-beat varieties in volumes to reach commercial value.
“There are also varieties in Mexico that never come to us in the U.S. because they’re worth more money down there, where you have nearly 130 million people who’ve grown up with mangos. They’re exporting those five main varieties and keeping the stuff that works domestically in their national market.”
Each varietal ships according to its growing season within each region, with southern regions leading the way. Tommy Atkins typically ships from mid-February into June. Hadens ship early in the season, too. Kents ship from May and June through August, while Keitts usually begin in late July and ship through early fall.
“Mexico really has three seasons in the southern, middle and northern parts of the country,” says Ciruli. “The varieties phase in and out so that maybe the most you see at retail at any given time are two or three varieties. From this time of year through August, you can always have a yellow mango on your shelf and also feature the various rounds as they become available. When you have more than one variety out there, it looks more interesting and draws customers into the display.
“You also want to be sure your varieties are a match for the clientele at your stores. For example, Asian and Indian customers are looking for the Keitt mango in late August and early September. It’s traditionally used in both cultures as a cooking mango at that early tart stage of ripeness. Hispanic customers also have seasonings they like to put on top of sour or tart mangos, while most Caucasian customers are looking for something sweet.”
‘Pile ’em High and Watch ‘em Fly’
Ciruli is a strong advocate of big, bold mango displays, but the most common mistake retailers make with their displays, says Ciruli, is to display mangos on a cold rack. “It’s the number one mistake in mangos. You walk into a retail outlet and see mangos stored on a cold rack in the upper 30-degree range. That mango is dying from the inside out, and you’re going to guarantee the consumer who buys it a very bad experience.”
“Cold temperature storage below 50 degrees inhibits ripening and drastically alters the flavor profile,” adds JoJo Shiba, west coast director for GM Produce Sales, based in Hidalgo, TX. Shiba was the 2020 chairman of the NMB. “But because mangos can and should be displayed at ambient temperatures, freestanding bins are an excellent option for placement throughout the store. Prime opportunities to generate impulse purchases are in meat and seafood departments and at check-out.”
“You can put these bins in front of the store and in other sections to give people more opportunities to see the fruit and make that purchase decision,” agrees Ciruli. “The big win behind the bin is we know the product is going to be stored at ambient temperatures. So it’s a huge win for the category.”
“Display bins are available from the National Mango Board with seasonal header options to tie into retailers’ initiatives and create excitement,” says Bohlman. “Secondary placement of mangos in an unexpected area like the meat and seafood department drives impulse sales.”
Think Outside the Tropicals Section
While some retailers group mangos with bananas, pineapples and other tropical fruits within the produce department, Ciruli says, consumers who are thinking about tropical fruits generally are looking for smaller items at less volume. “Mangos are certainly not best displayed as a tropical item in most stores.”
The National Mango Board has been encouraging retailers to think outside the tropical department when displaying mangos, says Shiba. “Mangos are rapidly becoming an essential item for many households, and consumers are now considering them more mainstream than exotic. More and more retailers are finding success and moving more volume by placing mangos outside of the tropicals section. We saw a significant jump in retail sales during 2020 by combining mangos with citrus.”
Consumers are more diligent than ever about staying healthy and avoiding infection, adds Shiba. “The board helps educate consumers by providing health and nutritional messaging that retailers can use at store level.”
Retailers have also found sales success pairing Mexican mangos with avocados from Mexico in produce department displays. The close proximity of the two fruits encourages both to ripen, and both can be used together as ingredients in guacamole and other recipes. “Pairing these two encourages display themes that can be built around holidays and sporting events,” notes Shiba.
Displaying more than one mango variety lends visual interest to displays and can promote additional sales as consumers learn to appreciate variations in flavor profiles and textures among varieties. “Having these choices on display not only looks good but encourages consumers to try new varieties,” says Cintron of J&C Tropicals.
Within the display, offering whole and fresh-cut mangos at various stages of ripeness can also stimulate sales. “We recommend displaying ready-to-eat and fresh-cut,” says Splendid’s Ibarra.
“We see many retailers cutting their own ripe mangos in-store to use in tropical fruit salads and smoothies,” says Cintron. “The stores cutting their own mangos use fruit that hasn’t moved for a couple of days, which helps offer it at peak ripeness and minimize waste.”
Offer Mangos ‘Ripe and Ready’
Offering stickered ripe, ready-to-eat mangos can help consumers buy with confidence — particularly those who have taken a bite out of an unripe mango and vowed never again to buy one.
“Providing consumers with a ripe-and-ready piece of fruit has been shown to have a positive impact on consumer satisfaction and sales,” says Bohlman. “Retailers who have converted to a ripening program sustain double-digit increases in volume. The University of California-Davis conducted in-store consumer tests on behalf of the National Mango Board indicating that consumer acceptance more than doubles, increasing from approximately 39% for mature, unripe mangos to 87% for the same fruit ripe and ready-to-eat.”
As with avocados and bananas, purchasers of ripe mangos to consume immediately often also stock up on unripened mangos for later use, so fruit at varying stages of ripeness should be available, along with educational materials to help store-level personnel and consumers select mangos and evaluate ripeness. Ciruli Brothers prints an illustrated ripening chart on every box.
“Some consumers might see the different-looking varieties as not ripe when they really are,” says J&C’s Cintron, “so it will help if consumers learn how the different varieties available in their stores look and feel when they’re ready to eat. You can’t judge by color. For retailers, having their produce managers and teams know how to tell when the different varieties of mangos are ripe can help them educate their customers and cut down on waste.”
“When they’re wrinkled, they’re ripe,” advises Bohlman. “A wrinkled yellow mango is actually a good thing and should not be thrown away.”
Focus on Quality and Consistency
“The number one problem when you talk to consumers about mangos is the lack of consistency,” says Ciruli. “They’re not like a banana, which tastes the same every time. In the mango industry, our goal is to deliver a consistently great piece of fruit every time so the customer knows, ‘Every time I look for this name, I’m going to get this quality.’ That takes a partnership working all the way through the supply chain from the grower to the retailer. It takes everyone doing it right.”
One quality advantage Mexican mangos have over mangos shipped from other countries derives from Mexico’s proximity to the United States. “The shipping of this stuff from Mexico is so much faster, we’re able to pick at a much higher maturity in the field,” explains Ciruli. “We start with a four-day ride from the border with Guatemala, and we keep moving north until we have only an eight-hour ride by the end of the season.
“Certainly as you get further north, you have less freight involved. That’s when, later in the summer, you can get really flexible on price when the stuff is so much cheaper. The closer it gets to the border, the easier it gets.”
Ciruli says mango varieties sourced from multiple countries for year-round availability and perhaps shipped by boat rather than overland may slow the development of strong consumer preferences for specific varieties. “It goes to consistency of eating quality,” he maintains. “With mangos you might eat the same variety from two different countries and, because of varying harvest times, shipping times, storage temperatures and the longevity of the fruit, you have a different eating quality.
Maintain the Momentum
Ciruli recommends an ongoing series of mango promotions to keep interest high throughout the year. “You start them off in March and get them used to some really good-eating fruit,” he suggests. “Now you’ve got that customer drawn in and ready for the start of April when you build promotions around Easter. That gets you right into May for Cinco de Mayo.”
A goal of continuing promotions is to make a place for mangos on customers’ shopping lists. “These days, grocery shoppers are not spending time in the store,” Ciruli observes. “They’re focused on going in and getting out quickly with the items on their shopping lists, and that cuts down on impulse purchases. You want mangos to be on their lists when they go in the store.”
“To help retailers keep track of the markets and plan promotions accordingly, the National Mango Board produces a Mango Crop Report they can subscribe to by visiting mango.org,” adds Shiba. “The report, which gets updated every week or two, is a powerful tool for planning retail promotions because it helps buyers know when volumes are high and when to promote aggressively.”
“The Crop Report is an excellent tool for retailers who have the time to dig in and focus on the information,” agrees Ciruli. “Hopefully, if they’re working with a distributor who’s been doing this for a while, retailers can also look to us for help with managing the category. We’re already working three months out on different promotions for the upcoming crops. You’ll start seeing our promotions in March, and we’re set up for all the way through May.”