(Oct. 21) NEW ORLEANS — Behind a show of support by U.S. importers, the stage is set for a referendum on a national mango research and promotion board later this year and implementation of the program by 2003.

A meeting Oct. 13 at the Hampton Inn across from the New Orleans Convention Center, the site of Fresh Summit 2002, brought together importers and producers of mangoes.

By the end of the mango meeting, numerous U.S. distributors had pledged $5,000 each to ensure the USDA can proceed with a referendum that is widely expected to pass and bring to fruition the goal of generic promotion of mangoes in the U.S.

Martha Ransom, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service chief of research and promotion, said the final rule for the promotion board likely would be issued within the next several weeks. After that, she said the referendum data will be set, and the entire referendum process could take a couple of months.

She said the cost of the mango referendum — $100,000 — must be borne by the industry. The full cost must be secured from industry before the referendum can be held. If the promotion board is approved, the money would be returned to the industry and the referendum expenses would be paid out of assessments collected over a five-year period, Ransom said.

Ismael Diaz, president of Diazteca Co., Nogales, Ariz., gave a pep talk for the promotion board to a room with dozens of mango industry leaders.

“We joined with other distributors in this effort for the last five years,” he said.

Diazteca has 2,000 acres of mangoes in Mexico, but he said mango suppliers need to concentrate on creating demand pull in the U.S. market, not supply push.

Promotion of mangoes will allow more consumers in the U.S. to be exposed to the world’s No.1 fruit, he said. After all, a “hairy, ugly” fruit —kiwifruit — achieved great success around the world on the strength of marketing, he said.

There seems to be plenty of upside for the fruit in the U.S. Mangoes rank as the 15th most popular fruit in America, after lemons.

Diaz cautioned distributors that they would not be saving a nickel per carton if they voted against the mango promotion board.

In fact, he said, a no vote will cost the industry money. Diaz said declining returns in the past five years have averaged 15 cents per carton per year.

“If you vote ‘yes,’ the nickel will work,” he said. While a recent survey shows about 70% of importers would vote for the mango board, Diaz noted some distributors have not officially indicated their position.