Mexican Mangos Thrive In US Produce Markets

National Mango Board DisplayPhoto Courtesy of The National Mango Board

As the fruit plows its way to mainstream, retailers have numerous options to market.

People have been cultivating the mango fruit for thousands of years. This sweet tropical fruit was first harvested in South Asia before spreading across the continent to East Asia and west to the coast of Africa. Today, mangos are cultivated in tropical and frost-free subtropical regions throughout the world including the orchards of Mexico. With two growing seasons, this delicious and versatile stone fruit can be sourced year-round to reach consumers in every part of the globe. Once considered an exotic fruit found only in ethnic markets, consumers in the U.S. became increasingly familiar with the mango, which is now a staple of the produce department.

Ciruli Bros. Cubed Mangos

Courtesy of Ciruli Bros.

This isn’t to say everyone is familiar with mangos. Choosing a ripe mango, cutting it, and incorporating it into recipes still presents a challenge for the casual consumer. With a little education and the right marketing and merchandising tools, supermarket executives can help their retail managers promote this fantastic fruit at store level.

While there are hundreds of mango varieties found throughout the world, six main varieties find their way to produce aisles here in the States. Five of these varieties are primarily sourced from Mexico: the Ataulfos, Haden, Keitt, Kent and Tommy Atkins. Rich, creamy, tender and juicy, the difference between varieties can be subtle. By featuring mangos in attractive displays with POS information, including recipe ideas and nutritional info, produce managers can quickly convey the benefits and possibilities of the mango to busy shoppers.

Mainstream Mangos

Tom Hall, sales manager at Freska Produce International, based in Oxnard, CA, witnessed firsthand the journey of mangos into the mainstream. “Salsas, jams, chutneys, smoothies, we’re seeing more exposure to mangos in general in several areas,” says Hall. Whereas, before it was grapes, pineapple and melon.”

The graduation of mangos to fruit salads isn’t the extent of their progress. Mangos provide sweetness, yes, but they also add additional texture that may be new to the palates of customers in the States.

“Consumers are looking to indulge and experience cuisines from different cultures in their own kitchens. From traditional Mexican dishes to Indian cuisines, mango can offer the variety in cultural plates, while being a healthy snack.”

— Rachel Muñoz, National Mango Board

Andres Ocampo, director of operations at HLB Specialties, headquartered in Pompano Beach, FL, observed the mango’s journey into more shopping carts in recent years. “Consumption numbers are consistently rising since mangos became mainstream,” says Ocampo. “People are accustomed to seeing them at the store level and are discovering new ways to use them.” Ronnie Cohen, vice president of sales at Vision Import Group, based in Hackensack, NJ, sees mangos’ stock rising in the eyes of shoppers as well. “Mangos are used more in the fresh-cut or value-added category,” says Cohen. “It’s being added to the mix, and also, it’s [the fruit is] being sold by itself. Hopefully that trend continues, and I think it will.”

Understanding Mangos

With a few slices of the knife to peel and to cut into cubes, mangos can be enjoyed as a quick snack. They can also be used to complement other ingredients in smoothies, chutneys, salsas, fruit salads, mixed with yogurt, topped on ice cream, even to accompany hamburgers and other meat entrees. Understanding the versatility and appeal of mangos is key to successful promotions.

“We have to understand the item in order to sell it properly,” says Cohen. “There is a plethora of information on the National Mango Board’s website. The plan going forward is to train produce managers so they understand what they’re handling, and to educate the merchandisers.”

This training doesn’t need to happen solely at store level. Distribution centers can also be educated on handling practices to ensure the best, most appealing fruit arrives to the produce department — where it can entice consumers through sight, smell and touch.

Chris Ciruli, chief operations officer at Ciruli Brothers, based in Rio Rico, AZ, offers supermarket executives communication suggestions for their managers when displaying mangos.

“The No. 1 thing we still see at the retail level is fruit on cold tables, which kills the flavor and kills the shelf life,” says Ciruli. “A lot of people are treating the fruit like an exotic and putting it in baskets and having very small display space. The larger the display space, especially unrefrigerated, the more you will build the market. I see a huge upside in potential for growth in this item once we get dialed in on how to handle it better through the whole supply chain.”

Mango Story Display

Photo Courtesy of Ciruli Bros.

Not knowing how to choose a ripe mango, or how to cut it once they do find one, remains a set back to full integration of mangos into the mainstream. “Many consumers associate mangos as a tropical fruit, which it is,” says Cohen, “but this may prevent them from actually trying mangos. They may be unsure how to choose ripe fruit, how to cut it, and how to eat it.”

Of course, not all consumers are put off by items unfamiliar to them. Rachel Muñoz, director of marketing for the National Mango Board (NMB), based in Orlando, FL, sees the general consumer as willing to experiment with the fruit. “Consumers are looking to indulge and experience cuisines from different cultures in their own kitchens. From traditional Mexican dishes to Indian cuisines, mango can offer the variety in cultural plates, while being a healthy snack.”

For some consumers, their only previous experience with mangos may be from sampling different chutneys and salsas, which they can now make at home. “Salsas continue to rise in popularity,” notes Muñoz. “Incorporating mango into your favorite salsa recipe is a great way to give a fun twist on a growing trend. Meal prepping also continues to gain a following. Cutting and including mango in salads and meals for the week is a healthy way to add a sweet treat to consumers’ routines.”

Produce buyers at the executive level can help managers market the fruit according to their customer base. “We find a more ethnic consumer base to mangos,” says Hall of Freska Produce. “Asian, Indian and Hispanic customers like certain varieties and are more familiar with them. It’s up the retailer, in particular, and what their core customer base is, to determine how to cross-promote.”

Point Of Sale Opportunities

While many consumers may not be comfortable choosing ripe mangos or storing and ripening them at home, this offers retailers several POS opportunities. The NMB provides retailers with POS tools to educate consumers. As Ocampo at HLB Specialties attests, “The work they have been doing has been really helpful for retail. They try to entice the stores to do better with larger displays to increase consumption.”

Case of Mangos

Photo Courtesy of Robinson Fresh

The NMB also offers free displays for retailers to help convey the many uses and benefits of the fruit. Cohen adds, “Like anything else, it’s about education.”

Muñoz at the NMB understands the value of educating both retailers and consumers. “Mango sales can benefit from the education opportunity of POS materials. After many years of working to educate shoppers, we still find that ‘squeeze gently to judge ripeness’ and the photo story showing how to cut a mango are still the most sought-after POS options.”

The NMB also offers POS education tools about mango nutrition and easy usage ideas. “Themed mango displays are always a big hit,” says Muñoz. “For example, choose a mango salsa recipe, and ask your stores to group the ingredients, along with a recipe tear pad to help shoppers buy everything they need. While it sounds simple, this strategy leads to colorful displays that draw in shoppers by telling a story and offering a solution.”

Due to the bulk nature of mangos, Robinson Fresh takes and alternative approach to garnering sales in produce departments. “The cartons the mangos are packaged in serve as their own billboard,” says Jose Rossignoli, category general manager at Eden Prairie, MN-based Robinson Fresh.

“As the mangos ripen, they start to release more aroma, and that is very enticing. It’s important to realize their ready-to-eat concept works very well for mangos.”

— Andres Ocampo, HLB Specialties

“The nomadic nature of mangos is characterized not only by strong volume variations but also by the evolution in sizing profile throughout the season,” adds Rossignoli. “Retailers should work to incorporate these natural size fluctuations within their program in order to take full advantage of volume peaks in different sizes, allowing for a more aggressive and frequent promotional campaign.”

Beautiful Displays

Packaging may move more mangos at Costco and Sam’s Club, but for smaller chain stores and neighborhood markets, individual fruit hand-stacked in attractive displays is the best option. “As the mangos ripen, they start to release more aroma, and that is very enticing,” says Ocampo.

When sold this way, the sticker may be the best opportunity to educate consumers about the product in such a limited space. In well-stocked produce departments with many commodities vying for attention, there’s not much room for communication or recipes.

National Mango Board Display 2

Photo Courtesy of The National Mango Board

“It’s important to realize their ready-to-eat concept works very well for mangos,” says Ocampo. “If you buy a mango that is not ripe, you will have a very tart, acidic flavor. If you buy a ripe mango, that tartness is mixed with a very sweet flavor, which is what makes mangos so appealing.”

Getting a tart, unripe mango might turn the consumer away from the fruit for good. “That’s something retailers have to realize, a ready-to-eat program might develop consumption in a much better and faster way. Ready-to-eat is the way to go.” Ciruli sees another pitted fruit from Mexico as providing mangos with an opportunity for cross-promotions within the produce department. Mangos placed next to avocados may improve ripening conditions for both, and they taste great together in guacamole. “With the volume of avocados and mangos coming out of Mexico, you get great promotional items that mix well,” says Ciruli.

“Retailers that offer more than one mango variety found success in generating additional sales by displaying mangos in multiple areas in the store,” says Rossignoli. “In-store demonstrations that include sampling fresh mangos and incorporating recipes that people can taste and then prepare at home are also successful.”

As consumer tastes broaden, access to once exotic fruits will increase. The mango has been providing people with health benefits and great taste for centuries, and this superb superfood is ripe for a prominent spot in produce aisles.