Effects of hurricane linger for Florida avocados

The Florida avocado crop is smaller this year thanks to the effects of Hurricane Irma. ( Brooks Tropical )

Florida avocado volume is expected to be significantly lower this season.

“Hurricane Irma did a number on Florida avocados,” said Mary Ostlund, director of marketing for Homestead, Fla.-based Brooks Tropicals.

“Avocado trees are shallow-rooted. The trees got stressed during the storm, impacting both harvesting volumes and seasonal starts. This is a season of hesitant projections.” 


Brooks Tropicals rebounds in South Florida

“For the SlimCado avocado, we look for flowers this time of the year and so far the crop looks smaller,” she said. “That’s normal just after a storm.”

Ostlund said passion fruit has seen rising demand in the past year, and star fruit also seen growth.


Merchandising tactics for tropical fruit sales

Demand for tropicals varies by region, with southern and coastal areas showing better demand for tropical products than Midwest states, said Jim Thornburg, West Virginia-based retail consultant.


Building sales

The evolution of consumer tastes is opening new markets, one marketer said.

“What was a specialty last year is mainstream this year,” said Mary Ostlund, director of marketing for Homestead, Fla.-based Brooks Tropicals Inc.

“Whether it’s a consumer wanting to eat healthier or a consumer looking for produce of their native cuisine, tropicals deliver.”

She said constantly testing what consumers want can build long-term sales.

Retailers can sell more tropical produce by giving it visibility throughout the department and the entire store, Ostlund said.

“Within the produce department, theme displays get some excitement with select tropicals added,” she said.

Baskets of fruit near yogurt invite consumers to try new tropical items, she said.

If retailers put bananas in the cereal aisle, Ostlund suggests giving the fruit some company with star fruit and passion fruit as cereal toppers.


Brooks Tropicals looks to expand its reach with consumers

With its name actually highlighting the tropical segment, Brooks Tropicals specializes in delivering a diverse array of tropical produce across the United States. Farming more than 4,000 acres, the Homestead, FL-based company harvests more than 70 percent of what its sells.

Twenty tropical fruits and vegetables are also imported into the North American market from 15 countries in Central and South America.

“I count three objectives for us as a company: providing tropical fruits and vegetables of native cuisines for many of our consumers; introducing this produce to anyone and everyone looking to eat healthier; and seducing the curious into trying the exotic tastes that tropicals deliver,” said Mary Ostlund, director of marketing for Brooks Tropicals. “I was born in the tropics and love sharing recipes and ideas with those who have known and loved these fruits and veggies their entire lives.”

Among its tropical offerings are avocados, papayas, starfruit, mangos, yam, pineapples and yucca. Brooks Tropicals has done extensive research on the nutritional quality of many of its tropical and it shares this info with culinary professionals and consumers across blogs, newsletters, websites and social media.

“We try to show that enjoying tropical fruits and veggies are not only delicious, but it is easy to add their tropical zest to any meal or snack,” Ostlund said. “It’s important to be bold. Big bold displays with informative signage is tops. Retailers should cut and package a sample to show their customers the gorgeous colors and potential tastes inside.”

Ostlund added that retailers should highlight the fact that tropicals are great for smoothies, and should create a smoothie station in the produce aisle, complete with papaya, red guava, dragonfruit and passionfruit. “The stars of the produce aisle, starfruit, have shined on some great sales this year,” she said. “Papaya consumers have become more label conscious making demand for Caribbean Red papaya strong.”

Overall, Brooks Tropicals is seeing steadily increasing overall sales in the category.

“Florida tropicals are a way to enjoy the tropics and buy domestic. Florida tropicals may not be ‘local’ to a lot of distant markets, but many consumers are willing to expand their definition of ‘local’ to include them,” Ostlund said. “Hurricane Irma did impact our Florida crops. Fortunately, recovery from the storm is almost complete with starfruit, passionfruit, red guava and dragonfruit coming back strong.”


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