Mango Merchandising: 5 Challeneges and 5 Solutions

Mango Retail Display

Mangos see positive 4-year growth of 8 percent with further sales hikes projected for the coming years.

Although they are among the most popular fruits in the world, mangos don’t even rank among the top 10 fruits in U.S. dollar sales or pounds, according to the 2015 Fresh Produce Review, a report by Bakersfield, CA-headquartered Gruszka Consulting, using Information Resources Inc. and FreshLook Marketing data for the 52-weeks ending December 27, 2015.

Dollar sales of fresh mangos in U.S. retailers nationwide represented only 0.4 percent of total produce sales during the year ending February 27, 2016, based on data supplied by Nielsen’s Perishable Group. This figure fluctuated from a low of 0.3 percent in Q1 and Q4 to a high of 0.7 percent in Q2 of 2015. However, fresh mangos could become top register ringers in U.S. supermarkets.

“Mangos are still gaining familiarity in the U.S.,” says Jose Rossignoli, category general manager for Robinson Fresh, based in Eden Prairie, MN. However, from a tropical portfolio perspective, mangos represent 9 percent of total tropical retail sales, and the trend has been very positive with a 4-year CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 8 percent, according to IRI FreshLook data.

Taste, health attributes and culinary versatility are a few of the drivers of consumer demand and retail sales. “Mangos are a growing category for us, and getting to the level of mainstream with our customers,” says Scot Olson, director of produce and floral for the southern division of Grocery Outlet, an Emeryville, CA-based discount retailer with more than 200 independently owned and operated stores in six states. “There are so many ways to use mangos, such as in fruit salsas. I think because they are versatile, mangos pique the interest of customers looking to expand their usage.

“After all, mangos can be used in dishes at all meals: breakfast, lunch or dinner. You see them on cooking shows, and so the understanding of how to utilize them is growing, which increases consumer demand. At the same time, I think we just scratched the surface with the potential of this fruit,” he says.

To grow mango sales, retailers need to match the most common merchandising challenges with successful selling solutions. These hurdles — not knowing how to buy, how to choose ripe fruit, where to find in-store, how to cut or use, and potential sticker shock — are most prevalent among a shopper demographic that isn’t familiar with the fruit. “As second and third generations of immigrants enter the market with more purchasing power than their parents and grandparents, the fruit gains penetration,” says Andres Ocampo, director of operations at HLB Specialties, in Pompano Beach, FL. “In parallel, Americans are also being exposed more to the fruit and learning of its attributes and getting used to buying it regularly. Demographic changes are helping the growth of the fruit.”

Challenge 1: A Mango Isn’t Just A Mango
Solution: Offer More Than One Variety

There’s no longer just one variety of apple, or tomato, or potato sold at retail. Likewise, there is more than one variety of mango. The six most common varieties sold in the U.S. are the Tommy Atkins, Haden, Kent, Keitt, Ataulfo and Francis, according to the National Mango Board (NMB). The majority of these are imported from Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Guatemala and Haiti to provide year-round supply.

“I am not sure the average consumer is as in tune with asking for specific varieties,” says Grocery Outlet’s Olson. Varieties, though, are one of the most exciting aspects of mangos. “Each variety not only has its own characteristics, but also has a unique growing window. For example, the Haden variety is early in the season. Tommy Atkins come next with great yields, strong color, and firmness. Late into the season, Kent and Keitt varieties are grown that perhaps have less color but a superb taste and eating profile. Being adaptable to the crop conditions and having a merchandising program that promotes the available fruit at different points of the season will allow a retailer to promote the most adequate size at different stages of the season,” explains Robinson Fresh’s Rossignoli.

Many retailers, according to the NMB, will offer two SKUs when possible: a “round” (Tommy, Kent, Keitt) and a “yellow” (Ataulfo or Francis) mango variety.

“Some shoppers want to know the mangos they’re buying by variety,” says Isabel Freeland, vice president of Coast Tropical, in San Diego. “In that case, we work with the retailer to put varietal names on the stickers. For example, we do this for Publix.” The number of mango varieties available to retailers is on the rise. For example, Melissa’s/World Variety Produce in Los Angeles is on its seventh season importing Alfonso and Kesar mango varieties from India during the fruit’s mid-April to early-June season. Last November, the company brought in its first full shipment of three Australian mango varieties: orange with red blush Kensington Pride, lemon-colored flesh R2E2, and the apricot-yellow Honey Gold. The fruit was available through February. More than adding volume to the market, these mangos introduced new flavors to the U.S. market, according to Robert Schueller, director of public relations.

Challenge 2: Skin Color Doesn’t Signal Ripeness
Solution: Offer Ripe Fruit

“We have greater success with the mango varieties that provide more color such as Tommy Atkins and Haden’s than those that are green-skinned,” says Grocery Outlet’s Olson. Red-skinned mangos represent 80 percent of the market share and continue to see double-digit growth with an 11 percent year-over-year growth from 2014 to 2015, according to IRI data as supplied by Robinson Fresh.

Whole Foods Mango Display

Photo Courtesy of Ciruli Brothers

“Even though skin color isn’t a sign of ripeness in mangos, consumers shop and eat with their eyes. That’s a challenge. There are some great-tasting green-skinned varieties that shoppers are passing by,” says Ronnie Cohen, vice president of sales for Hackensack, NJ-based Vision Import Group.

Only 44.7 percent of mango consumers felt comfortable selecting a mango at retail, according to the 2013-published report, Tropical Produce: Consumer Insight Panel, by C.H. Robinson.

There are three ways to solve this problem. First, teach shoppers how to select ripe fruit.

“This year we will be partnering with the National Mango Board to help provide point-of-sale material on how to pick and utilize mangos. We found mangos are like bananas and avocados; having a mix of ripeness stages helps increase purchases as some customers are looking for that immediate usage while others are shopping for the week and won’t need to utilize for several days ahead,” says Grocery Outlet’s Olson.

In the next three to four years, “retailers will be requesting conditioned mangos — we’re definitely headed in that direction.”

— Tom Hall, Freska Produce

Teach produce employees too. “Staff needs to know mangos are ripe, when they are soft, and color is not always the best cue, because not all varieties change color,” explains Sandra Aguilar, marketing manager for Ciruli Brothers, LLC, in Nogales, AZ. “Staff should also be able to inform customers that mangos must not be placed in the refrigerator, but they should be left at room temperature, lest they risk damaging the fruit and offsetting the flavor.”

Second, retailers can take the guesswork out by offering ripe fruit. “You can’t put stone hard mangos out and expect customers to buy,” says Richard Stiles, director of produce and floral for Redner’s Markets, a Reading, PA-based chain with more than 40 Warehouse Markets and 20 Quick Shoppes in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware. “They have to be conditioned.” Vision Import’s Cohen likens the mango industry today to where avocados were a decade ago in terms of ripening programs. “Growers tend to pick fruit before it’s fully ripe in order to hold up through the hot water treatment required as a phytosanitary measure before mangos can be imported to the U.S. As a result, we have to help the fruit along by giving it a little temperature to bring on the flavors and sugars. All varieties can be conditioned this way. However, certain varieties, those with less fiber such as Keitt, Kent, Ataulfo and Haden condition better than a Tommy Adkins that has more fiber,” says Cohen.

In the next three to four years, “retailers will be requesting conditioned mangos — we’re definitely headed in that direction,” says Tom Hall, sales manager at Freska Produce, in Oxnard, CA.

Third, it’s possible to offer a tree-ripe mango program. This fruit comes from a fruit fly free area in Sonora, Mexico, near the U.S. border. Mangos grown here do not need to undergo hot water treatment and can stay on the tree longer to ripen. “Tree-ripe is a big trend,” says Melissa’s/World Variety Produce’s Schueller. “This is our third season to offer tree-ripe mangos. Varieties include Haden, Kent, Keitt. Availability is May through late August or early September.”

Challenge 3: Mangoes Can Be ‘Lost’ In a Small Back-Of-The-Department Displays
Solution: Place Mangos Front-and-Center and In Unique Locations

Big displays of mangos are the norm at Redner’s Markets. “Mangos are a staple for us,” says Stiles. “Customers come in looking for them, and we want to ensure they can find them easily by building big displays up front.”

Price figures into the display strategy at discount retailer, Grocery Outlet. “When we get into promotable quantity and price points, we go bigger by displaying on slant racks and field bins. We have done mango display contests in the past and plan to go even bigger this year with growing interest and results from promoting this delicious and versatile fruit. However, when mangos are priced high, and aren’t a higher color variety, we tend to display in one tray with other tropical items such as papayas, pineapples, guavas, coconuts and kiwi fruit,” says Olson.

Redner's Markets Display

Photo Courtesy of Redner’s Markets

Research by the NMB, which was conducted during a six-week period in July and August 2015 at Schnucks (a St. Louis-based retailer with about 100 stores), reveals it may be profitable to take mangos out of the tropical section. In fact, results of the Impact of Display Location on the Mango Category study, published in January 2016, shows there was a 45 percent increase in volume and dollar sales when mangos were displayed next to stone fruit.

“We propose that the positive impact comes from positioning mango as a mainstream fruit,” says Rachel Muñoz, the NMB’s director of marketing. “When the shopper comes to the store with the intention of purchasing fruit, and mangos are displayed alongside the seasonal fruit, the shopper sees mangos as a great option. This is a shift from thinking about mangos as tropical, exotic and special. The retailer response to this study has been really exciting. This summer, I expect to see lots of retail displays with stone fruit and mangos side by side.”

Challenge 4: Consumers Don’t Know How To Cut And Use Mangos
Solution: Teach Them via POS

“One of the biggest detractors is some shoppers don’t know how to enjoy a mango. Cooking shows on TV are helping as are efforts by the National Mango Board. While I do like a ‘clean store’ look, POS has value when used properly to educate consumers and drive consumption,” says Grocery Outlet’s Olson.

“I like to use it [POS] incorporated into a bin display full of fruit. Bin photos that show usages, like mangos cut up with yogurt and granola, are a great connector too,” he says.

The NMB offers different types of POS materials for retailers to use in educating their customers. This includes cutting and selection, nutrition and recipe information on banners, balloons, buttons, posters, header cards and recipe tear pads, as well as materials for its annual Mango Mania Display Contest.

“Combining demos and big displays with POS material that can be easily accessed by consumers can make inroads to teaching the consumers how to eat the fruit. However, more investment on the actual sticker attached to each fruit can be the most effective way to give the consumer education through something they will take home. Space is limited but certainly can be utilized in creative ways to teach and engage the consumer,” says HLB’s Ocampo.

Challenge 5: Some Customers Think Mangos Are Too Expensive
Solution: Plan Your Promotions According To Pricing And More

“Mangos are a great item to promote when there’s great quality, volume and pricing. We go crazy with 10/$10 ads,” says Redner’s Stiles.

The summer period from May through July, when the crop is coming out of Mexico, is one of the best times to promote. Price promotion is most popular. “Use multiples in retails like 2/$3 rather than $1.50 each,” recommends Danny Pollak, vice president of sales at CarbAmericas, in Pompano Beach, FL. “When on ad, be sure to create a secondary display space or place mangos on the endcap for the duration of the ad.”

In the winter, when shoppers appreciate an upbeat theme, mangos can provide a spark, says HLB’s Ocampo. “Even if prices can’t be at their lowest, it might be the best opportunity for mangos to shine, because there are fewer items in the produce department than in the summer when locally grown fruits are in season.”

“I like to use it [POS] incorporated into a bin display full of fruit. Bin photos that show usages, like mangos cut up with yogurt and granola, are a great connector too.”

— Scot Olson, Grocery Outlet

Price combined with theme promotions can be exponentially effective. A good example is Coast Tropical’s partnering with its retail customers in store-wide events.

“We have many different methods of maximizing sales for our retail partners,” says John Goodwin, in sales at Coast Tropical. “For example, one is partnering with the other departments and taste sampling a variety of foods that most would not even think of like mango layer cake from the bakery, mango jicama salad with peanut lime dressing from the deli, and mango tamales in the meat department.

“We also have characters in dress which gets the children excited. There are games, impressive displays in size and creativity, and live remote broadcasts by radio stations. All of this comes together to greatly increase sales by exciting and drawing in new customers. A nearly 600 percent increase in mango sales and volume because of events such as this speaks for itself,” says Goodwin.