Tropical fruit marketing often is, by necessity, about education as much anything else, marketers say.

Some consumers, particularly those coming from Asian or Hispanic backgrounds, know about dragon fruit, lychee, rambutan, Asian pears and other tropical fruits.

“Education starts at home, and families from the tropics drive the tropical category demand,” said Marc Holbik, vice president of business development with Miami-based Ecoripe Tropicals.

Others have to learn about tropical fruits from marketers and, specifically, retailers.

Retail produce departments are ideal venues for teaching shoppers about tropical fruit, Holbik said.

“Strategies to invite new consumers to enjoy tropical produce include demos, attractive displays and packaging, and aggressive pricing during specials,” Holbik said.

He cited rambutan as an example. 

“Last season, we worked together with a couple of retailers to introduce this tropical specialty fruit into their stores,” Holbik said.

Movement officially was around 15-25 pounds per store, he said.

That improved after educational programs went into place.

“We then implemented demos on the weekends, helped them create beautiful displays, and offered the fruit in a 1-pound clamshell,” he said.

As a result, volume in one store increased to more than 500 pounds per week, he said.

There was a halo effect, too, he said.

“Most importantly, we brought excitement and interest to the whole tropical category at the store,” he said.

The interest continues, he said.

“We still receive e-mails from consumers in these areas asking when rambutan season starts and to make sure their retail store carries it,” Holbik said. 

On the other hand, Holbik said, his company has seen stores that have failed to develop the tropical category, with predicable results.

“In one large specialty market chain, we saw rambutan being placed in tiny 4-ounce clamshells and hidden in the refrigerated section with fresh-cuts, isolated from other tropicals and hidden in a small package, and the product goes unnoticed,” he said.

It didn’t sell, he said.

“Product placement, packaging, and demos are key for the success of our rambutan program,” Holbik said.

The key to marketing tropical items is education, said Michael Castagnetto, strategic category manager with Eden Prairie, Minn.-based C.H. Robinson Worldwide.

“By helping consumers understand how to choose a mango, cut a pineapple or use an avocado in an innovative way increases the familiarity and likelihood a consumer will purchase tropical items more frequently,” Castagnetto said.

C.H. Robinson includes cutting instructions on packaging and provides recipes and information that retailers can add to their websites and Facebook pages , Castagnetto said.

Consumers want to learn all they can, said Karen Caplan, chief executive officer of Los Alamitos, Calif.-based Frieda’s Inc.

“Consumers are always looking for information, especially at point of sale,” Caplan said.

Information-rich labels, signage and recipe tear-offs are particularly effective teaching tools, as are quick-response codes for smartphone users, Caplan said.

The most important tool, though, is experience, Caplan said.

“A great way to educate consumers is to do sampling,” she said. “We recommend when a fruit ripens — like cherimoyas — that instead of throwing them out, cut them up and sample. It’s a great way to build sales and introduce the fruit to new shoppers.”

Retailers, on the whole, haven’t held up their part of the educational bargain, said consultant Dick Spezzano, owner of Spezzano Consulting Service, Monrovia, Calif.

“I don’t see them doing a really great job on that,” he said. “There’s probably some regionals in my area that do a decent job, but it’s all about information and how well you train the produce people.”

Less knowledge means fewer sales, said Bill Sheridan, executive vice president of sales with Banacol Marketing Corp., Miami.

“We find the best (approach is) having a demo person very familiar with the products and how they should be prepared,” he said.

Coral Gables, Fla.-based Turbana Corp. tries to aim its messaging at consumers, said Scott DiMartini, regional sales manager.

“We have assistance with that now, with the boom of food networks and fusion-themed restaurants,” he said.