The demand for fresh plantains is healthy, according to Scott DiMartini, Southeast U.S. sales manager for Coral Gables, Fla.-based Turbana Corp. However, supply remains an issue since floods ravaged Turbana’s plantations in Colombia in late December.

“You’re dealing with a smaller community of growers,” he said. “The market has been very supply-driven since the beginning of the year.”

Bill Sheridan, executive vice president sales of Coral Gables-based Banacol Marketing Corp., said the flavor of Colombian plantains is a big selling point, and he’s seen the long, wide bananas showing up in more mainstream restaurants.

“In the past five years, people have become much more aware of how good plantains are for you and how good they taste,” Sheridan said.

“When the general population gets to try them, they can’t believe how good they are.”

While marketers hope plantains continue to make inroads in broader markets, DiMartini said the Hispanic market is the fastest growing in North America in terms of demographics.

“There are so many different backgrounds — from El Salvador, Colombia, Guatemala and Chile — and everyone prepares them in different ways and uses them to a different degree in their diet,” he said.

Sheridan and DiMartini agree that understanding the customer is the key to a successful supermarket plantain program.

“Store personnel need to be aware of who’s shopping in your stores, what they use plantains for and how to prepare them if a customer asks,” Sheridan said.

Once you understand your customer, you can decide which store is the best fit for plantains, DiMartini said.

“It’s not just about saying you’re going to offer plantains in all your stores,” he said. “You might want to offer one variety in one store and a different variety in another store. You might want to offer greens in one store and ripe in another. It all depends on who your end consumer is.”

David Hahn, buyer for Ephrata, Pa.-based Four Seasons Produce, which has the technology and rooms to ripen plantains, said he’s started a few key accounts on a Dole campaign with ripened fruit.

“It’s not huge, but it’s been more steady than in the past and a nice addition to the overall program,” said Hahn.

Four Seasons ripens the fruit to the yellow stage with a little green, so they still have some shelf life at store level.

“We don’t ripen them to black — that’s when they’re at their peak of use,” he said.

Mayra Velazquez de Leon, president of San Diego, Calif.-based Organics Unlimited, said most Americans still aren’t ready to buy a black banana or a starchy green one.

“Education is the key,” she said. “We’ve seen our sales grow, and people are interested in new flavors, but you have to be educated on how to eat them.”