Tackling Mango Challenges And Mining The Opportunities

Originally printed in the May 2018 issue of Produce Business.

Global demand soaring but plenty of room for growth in U.S. retail outlets.

Mangos are one of the most popular fruits in the world. That should provide a huge opportunity for retailers in the United States. However, many U.S. consumers still consider this tropical fruit ethnic and exotic.

Mangos barely ranked 20th in fruits sold by volume at retail in 2017, according to data provided by the Orlando, FL-headquartered National Mango Board (NMB). Said another way, the mango’s contribution to total produce dollars is small — only 0.41 percent for the 52 weeks ending Dec. 30, 2017, based on Nielsen Perishables Group information supplied by the NMB. Overcoming seasonal, varietal, ripeness, display, educational and promotional challenges that can hamper maximum mango register rings are ways U.S. retailers can jump on the global bandwagon and turn the mango category into a potent profit center.

“We see mangos as a valuable tool to growing total produce department sales,” says Michael Vesely, senior produce buyer at Jewel-Osco, a 186-store chain based in Itasca, IL, and a wholly owned subsidiary of the Albertsons Companies. Vesely was named 2017 Mango Retailer of the Year by the NMB. “One of the great things about promoting mangos is they do not steal sales from another item in the department. When we promote an item like a 10-pound russet potato or a honeycrisp apple, it kills the other items in the category. When we promote mangos, there is nothing they are stealing sales from. As we continue to grow the category, we have seen customers, who typically haven’t given mangos a glance, will pick them up.”

1. MAXIMIZE ANNUAL SALES

The tropical nature of mangos leads many shoppers to think of this as a summer fruit, according to Michael Nienkerk, in sales at Splendid by Porvenir, in Bruno, CA. “Come October and it starts getting cold in many parts of the nation, demand drops.”

The largest import availability to the United States arriving from Mexico is February to September. Imports from Brazil starting in August, followed by supplies through March from countries such as Ecuador, Peru and Australia, make mangos available year-round in the United States, says Tom Hall, sales manager at Freska Produce International, LLC, in Oxnard, CA. “There is good overlap between seasons. We don’t foresee gaps in supply, except in the case of unforeseen weather events.”

The NMB encourages retailers to look at their year-round mango business, not just focus on the summer, says Angela Serna, communications manager for the National Mango Board. “There are tremendous opportunities from October through February.”

This is something Jewel-Osco’s Vesely does successfully.

“One of the most important factors in our mango program is having enough supply to promote mangos 12 months out of the year,” he says. “While promoting out of Mexico is a no-brainer, we have found benefits promoting mangos from Brazil, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Peru and Honduras. This repeat consumption keeps mangos at the front of the consumers’ mind and increases consumption. Promoting mangos in December is a great way to drive traffic to the produce department when many other fruits are not available.”

“While promoting out of Mexico is a no brainer, we have found benefits promoting mangos from Brazil, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Peru and Honduras.”

— Michael Vesely, Jewel-Osco

2. CARRY A VARIETY OF OFFERINGS

Many retailers have built their mango category based on Tommy Atkins being the core item, importers say. Tommy Atkins represented more than one-third (37.01 percent) of varietal offerings in 2017, according to Nielsen Perishables Group data. Yet, there are several other varieties available throughout the year that make up the remainder of category sales. These are the Kent (29.23 percent), Honey or formerly the Ataulfo (18.72 percent), Keitt (9.88 percent), Haden (3.33 percent), Frances (1.72 percent), Palmer (0.09 percent) and Nam Doc Mai (0.01 percent).

“Additional sales growth can be achieved by introducing the best eating varieties (Kents, Keitts, Naomis and Palmers) to the category,” says Darrell Genthner, who heads up mango strategic sales for CarbAmericas in Pompano Beach, FL. “This assortment targets the quality-conscious consumer and has a higher value proposition versus the Tommy Atkins. The mango industry has been slow to identify mangos by variety, which is why our company produces its own PLU stickers, communicating to the consumer what is different or unique about these mangos.”

Beyond the challenge of adding quality is the opportunity of quantity.

“We encourage retailers to carry more than one variety of mango so that consumers can try different flavors,” says Chris Ciruli, chief operations officer for Tubac, AZ-based Ciruli Brothers. “The fastest-growing variety is the Honey or Ataulfo, and we market our premium fruit in the Champagne mango label. Every year, we move more and more Champagne and Keitt mango varieties than in prior years.”

The Francis mango, available April to June out of Haiti, is something Miami-based J&C Tropicals is building into a popular seasonal program.

“We’ve seen retailers like Whole Foods carry three varieties of mangos at a time, a larger green or red-skin, a smaller yellow-skin and the Frances, which is a very sweet variety,” says Luis Cintron, director of sales and procurement at J&C Tropicals.

Mangos, such as the Alphonso and Kesar, imported from India during the summer and the Australian Kingston Pride, R2E2 and Honey Gold in the winter, offer additional ways to expand variety, according to Robert Schueller, director of public relations for Melissa’s/World Variety Produce in Los Angeles.

“Eventually, I think we’ll have a category of mangos of different colors and sizes as we do for stone fruit and apples,” says Ronnie Cohen, vice president of sales for the Vision Import Group LLC, in Hackensack, NJ.

3. SELL IT RIPE

One of the biggest challenges is how to get tropical fruit delivered with the correct maturity, according to Ciruli. “Mangos were not meant to be handled cold, and everyone who handles and transports them in the supply chain, including at retail, must take care to keep them at the proper temperature.”

CarbAmericas’ Genthner agrees. “Delivering a great eating experience is one of the top goals for a retailer as it applies to the mango category. To ensure this is achieved, retailers have embraced ripening their mangos prior to shipping to the stores.”

This marks the third season Melissa’s/World Variety Produce has offered its tree-ripened mango program. The fruit, sourced from nearby Mexico, can stay on the tree longer and harvests from March through August. It is irradiated prior to entry to the United States rather than hot-water treated, which requires picking the fruit at a firmer stage. Varieties included in this program are Hadens, Kents, Keitts and Manzanillos. Schueller says company sales of tree-ripened mangos have increased 14 percent over the past year.

A second challenge regarding ripe fruit is consumers’ perception that outer skin color is an indication of ripeness.

“Shoppers need to understand color alone is not the full story,” says Andres Ocampo, director of operations for HLB Specialties, LLC, in Fort Lauderdale, FL. “A much more important tool to determine ripeness is the firmness of the mango.”

The NMB offers point-of-sale materials to help retailers get this word out, with themes such as ‘Don’t Judge A Mango by Its Color’ and ‘Ripe When Slightly Soft.’

4. NO BACK-ROW CORNER DISPLAYS

Traditionally, grocers have had small displays of mangos either with the stone fruit or a handful in a tropical display, explains Jewel-Osco’s Vesely. “With the limited amount of product on display, customers oftentimes have felt the items were picked over and there was obviously something wrong with items that were left. On the other hand, when customers see a large display of mangos, they think to themselves, ‘Hey, maybe this is something I should check out.”

Big mango displays accompanied by price promotion is something Randy Bohaty likes to build in the summer when supplies are peak and prices are relatively cheap.

“Mangos are still a niche item in our area, but highlighting the fruit boosts sales,” says Bohaty, produce director at B&R Stores, an 18-store chain based in Lincoln, NE, that operates under the Russ’s Market, Super Saver, Apple Market and Save Best Foods banners. “In addition, in our stores with Hispanic customers, we also switch from selling by the each to the case and this increases display size and sales too.”

The NMB offers retail bins, based on research that mangos are an impulse item for many customers, says Serna. “Our mango bins have gained retailer excitement, particularly with our new brand message, ‘Super Fun Superfruit.’ Additionally, our annual display contest each July challenges retailers to create displays featuring one or more varieties of mangos in ways that surprise and delight the consumer, showing the taste and versatility of mangos.”

“Eventually, I think we’ll have a category of mangos of different colors and sizes as we do for stone fruit and apples.”

— Ronnie Cohen, Vision Import Group LLC

5. EDUCATE

Thirty-three percent of consumers surveyed have never purchased a mango, according to the NMB’s 2017 Attitudes & Usage Survey. Reasons include not knowing how to pick a ripe fruit (31 percent) and not knowing what to do with it (24 percent). However, the No. 1 reason for those who did purchase mangos was taste (63 percent).

“One of the biggest barriers to purchase continues to be unfamiliarity with the fruit, therefore efforts to show consumers how to select mangos, how to tell when they are ripe, how to cut/prepare them continue to be important,” says Ciruli Brothers’ Ciruli. “The NMB has developed great tools for retailers, including display bins, a new website and point-of-sale material. On our part, we have developed recipes, point-of-sale material and we have included a lot of information in our consumer packaging, labels and website.”

The sampling of varieties, not necessarily as appealing to the eye but full of flavor, will help consumers learn how to select and which mangos to demand from their local stores, recommends HLB’s Ocampo.

The challenge to educate also extends to retail produce staff.

“We work with the NMB to help educate our associates who in turn can inform our customers about the many benefits of eating a mango,” says Jewel-Osco’s Vesely.

The NMB offers an online curriculum for store employees called ‘Mango University.’

6. PRICE IS THE BIGGEST FACTOR

Price is the foundation of mango promotions at retail. In fact, says Freska Produce’s Hall, price is the single most determining factor of sales. That’s why retailers like multiples such as 2-for-$.99 or 3-for-$.99 or a hot price of 4-for-$.99. Occasionally, you’ll see honey mangos promoted for 5-for-$.99.”

However, a limitation of “per/each” pricing is an emphasis on small fruit, adds Splendid’s Nienkerk. “If you sell by the weight, it’s easier to sell larger fruit. Larger fruit is usually better as well.”

Beyond price, seasonal themes offer promotional opportunities and challenges.

Take advantage of the abundant supplies and lower prices available during the spring and summer, recommends HLB’s Ocampo. “The challenge this time of year is mangos compete against many summer items that are locally grown. Conversely in the winter, there’s less competition from other fruits. However, the prices may not be as attractive as the mangos are coming from the Southern Hemisphere, which means increased transportation costs and transit times. It will depend to a certain degree, on the geographical location of the retailer, where northern locations may work out promotions best during the winter, and not-so-cold regions may take best advantage of promoting during the summer. Ethnic composition of the customers, it’s another factor to consider as consumption of mangos is strongly rooted among Latin and Asian consumers. Some holidays like Chinese New Year in February or Cinco de Mayo in May are opportunities to promote mangos.”


REQUEST RIPE TO GROW FRESH-CUT MANGO SALES

Successfully selling fresh mangos in several ways is one reason Michael Vesely was named the 2017 Mango Retailer of the Year by the Orlando, FL-headquartered National Mango Board (NMB).

“We have had case sales and tried different multiples in ads to try and draw interest in the category,” says Vesely, senior produce buyer at Jewel-Osco, a 186-store chain based in Itasca, IL, and a wholly owned subsidiary of the Albertsons Companies. “We will also run mangos in ads as part of our fresh-cut program.”

Fresh-cut mangos are widely available. Specifically, 96 percent of retailers surveyed offered the product at some point during the year, according to the NMB’s Mango Performance Benchmark Report, 2015-2016. In terms of sales, when annual dollars of value-added fruit declined last year because of prices reaching an all-time high, some products such as mangos still showed growth, according to FreshFacts on Retail, Year in Review 2017, published by the United Fresh Produce Association, in Washington, DC. This data bodes well for the future of fresh-cut mango products.

“Fresh-cut is an excellent way for the consumer to experience mangos at their best,” says Angela Serna, the NMB’s communications manager. “Unfortunately, often the fresh-cut product that is purchased at retail can be under-ripe. This fruit is crunchy and doesn’t provide a great experience for the consumer, which in turn impacts future sales. Retailers can increase their specifications for mango ripeness, quality and color from the processor or supplier. By improving the quality of fresh-cut mango, we can increase sales of both fresh-cut and whole mangos. An amazing fresh-cut experience for the consumer is the gateway for them to enjoy whole mangos and their versatility and flavor.”

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