While the season for sought-after domestic stone fruit is short and sweet, thanks to a heightened focus on quality among Southern Hemisphere growers and strategic ripening programs here at home, it’s always an exciting time for juicy mangoes, nectarines, peaches, cherries and more.
Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is the first retailer in the United States to implement a year-round ripe and ready-to-eat mango program. In partnership with the Orlando, Fla.-based National Mango Board (NMB), the mega-retailer’s senior director of quality control, Gary Campisi, and senior produce merchant, Wynn Peterson, spearheaded the program, which has produced significant year-over-year growth in the mango category since its inception in 2012.
Peterson and Campisi were named the 2016 Mango Retailers of the Year at the NMB’s Annual Mango Industry Reception, held during the Produce Marketing Association’s (PMA) Fresh Summit Convention & Expo in Orlando last month. Walmart was selected from more than 100 retailers that partner with the NMB across the United States, for going above and beyond in the mango category.
“Our mango-ripening program has been so successful with the help and assistance of the mango board,” says Campisi. “They helped to educate our quality control team across 40 distribution centers.
“We wanted this ripening program to be as good as our other ripening programs for bananas, avocados and pears. Once we started ripening mangos, we saw an increase in sales,” he adds.
An investment in pricing and promotions were also essential to the program’s success,” says Peterson. “We knew that if we gave the customer a good experience, they would come back for more.”
Walmart also recognized that consistency of quality was critical to driving sales. “You have to build that trust and offer a ripe mango every time,” Campisi asserts. “You can’t disappoint the customer, so it’s really important to be consistent.”
The NMB also worked with Walmart to provide education on how to tell if a mango is ripe and how to cut it.
Q4 Mango Outlook
While mango supplies typically slow in the fourth quarter, the NMB reports that this year’s crops from Brazil, Ecuador and Peru are expected to overlap, while offering consistently high volumes. As such, the board is encouraging retailers to promote mangos through the end of the year.
Extended availability is good news for both retailers and consumers. Programs like the one at Walmart are further moving the dial on mango consumption.
“We’ve seen mango volume grow by 50 percent in the last 10 years,” notes Rachel Muñoz, director of marketing for the NMB. “This can be attributed to the work done within our marketing programs, which includes direct-to-consumer media campaigns, retail promotions, foodservice outreach to increase mango on menus, nutrition outreach, and a new website launch.”
The NMB finds that both average dollars per store per week and volume were up in 2015, compared with the previous year. What’s more, fresh-cut mango sales were $59.2 million in 2015, up 29 percent from 2014 and a staggering 47 percent from 2013.
Looking ahead to 2017, the board plans to continue its Ripe and Ready-to-Eat program to help bring a riper fruit to consumers. “We are also going to be focusing on a varieties campaign that will educate consumers on the top [mango] varieties available in the U.S.,” says Muñoz.
As countries from Peru to Brazil to Argentina to Chile continue to focus on improved quality, more U.S. retailers are taking a second look at stone fruit from the Southern Hemisphere.
“Stone fruit was one of the highlights of the 2016 Chilean stone fruit season,” enthuses Karen Brux, managing director North America for the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association, in San Carlos, Calif. “The fruit was juicy and flavorful, and more retailers than ever promoted it to their customers.”
In 2016, the association ran its first-ever series of peach demos, accompanied by large displays, at a major nationwide club store.
“Even though there was a display of considerable size, many consumers were just walking by it and heading to their ‘typical’ winter fruits,” Brux recalls. “Of those who tried the peaches, most were pleasantly surprised and bought a large clamshell. We need to keep investing in this type of consumer education.”
An exploration of new varieties is further helping to elevate the quality of produce from the Southern Hemisphere, according to Karin Gardner, marketing communications manager for Oppy, in Coquitlam, British Columbia, who sees increased potential from peaches and other stone fruit from below the equator.
“Peaches have led the stone fruit category in annual volume movement and dollar sales for the last three years and possibly more,” she says. “Southern Hemisphere growers are introducing new peach varieties that are better suited to the production and transportation processes required for the North American market, delivering better flavor and consistency.”
While encouraging consumers to try these fruits is key to driving sales, Brux admits that retailer education is equally important. “Chile’s quality has been improving year on year,” she asserts, “and retailers are discovering that it’s a valuable offering to their shoppers and produce department.”
In terms of supplies, the outlook this season is bright. Volumes are up not only for Chile’s peaches, but also for its nectarines, plums and cherries as compared with last-year totals.
When it comes to creating in-store excitement with Chilean stone fruit during the winter, Brux recommends promoting unique varieties like the lemon plum. Available January through February, lemon plums from Chile are another way retailers can add excitement to winter fruit displays. Found only in Chile, this exotic fruit is a novel hybrid of citrus and plum. The fruit changes from yellow to red when it’s ready to eat.
Supermarkets can also take advantage of the association’s partnership with Tajin to run flavorful cross-promotions. The 2016 partnership, which will run again in 2017, included demos and contests with the Mexican produce-seasoning company at numerous California retailers, including Vons, Albertsons, Stater Bros., Mi Pueblo Foods, Super King Markets and Northgate Markets.
Cherry on Top
According to Forever Fresh, a vertically integrated sales and marketing company in Philadelphia, Chilean cherry production is expected to be up 35 percent over last season.
“The Chilean growing season has been near perfect,” asserts Evan Myers, general manager of Forever Fresh. “We’ve had a perfect winter that has provided significant chill hours for high cherry production.”
Forever Fresh expects to market more than 400,000 cases of fresh Red and Rainier cherries in North America this season. Airfreight arrivals will kick off the Chilean cherry season this month, with additional vessel arrivals continuing through the end of January.
Further, Forever Fresh will offer new air cherries from Argentina, with arrivals starting in mid-February and continuing through the first week of March.
The cherries are available in traditional standup pouches and Forever Fresh’s new controlled-atmosphere 1-pound top-seal clamshells.