Retailers are making progress in their efforts to more effectively merchandise tropical fruit, marketers say.

“More retailers are recognizing that they need to have a devoted display area for tropicals,” said Karen Caplan, chief executive officer of Los Alamitos, Calif.-based Frieda’s Inc.

Display areas are necessary to grow the category, Caplan said.

“Educating their produce personnel on the proper handling and display techniques should be a priority,” she said.

Stores are learning that the natural aesthetics of tropical fruits can be a key asset to selling more of them, said Mary Ostlund, marketing director at Homestead, Fla.-based Brooks Tropicals Inc.

“Beautiful displays combining mangoes, papayas and pineapples, cross-merchandised with guacamole and salsa mixes,” are compelling ideas, she said.

Smaller items can be keyholed in with larger items, such as starfruit in the middle of a display of Caribbean red papayas, Ostlund said.

It’s also important to coordinate displays with weekly ads, said Gary Clevenger, managing member and co-founder of Oxnard, Calif.-based Freska Produce International LLC.

“Some — but not all — retailers do a great job on this with mangoes,” he said, noting that some retailers still devote relatively scant display space to mangoes.

“This is a very good fruit that has lots of health benefits, not to mention the tropical flavor,” Clevenger said.

Retailers have come a long way in the area of tropical fruit merchandising, said Dick Spezzano, owner of Spezzano Consulting Service, Monrovia, Calif.

“There are some bright spots — the No. 1 tropical fruit you always think about (is) bananas.”

A problem some retailers may have with tropical fruit is that it is considered, in essence, a specialty item, Spezzano said.

“I think for those items that remain a specialty, every now and then you might see a retailer feature one or two of those in some kind of good price or a decent display,” he said.

“They probably have a wider distribution than they had maybe five or 10 years ago, probably because there’s more availability with the different countries of those items,” he said.

Items other than bananas, however, remain slow movers, Spezzano said.

The knock on the category typically is that it is loaded with “slow movers” with “slow turns,” Spezzano said, noting that some retailers carry them only “because we want to be full service and want to have a wide variety.”

Retailers that do that are missing an opportunity, Spezzano said.

“One of the things they do to nullify that advantage Wal-Marts have with price is to have a much bigger variety, and that includes tropicals,” he said.

A retailer can succeed if he or she gets a read on his or her customers, said Bill Sheridan, executive vice president of sales with Banacol Marketing Corp., Miami.

“I think all retailers want to carry more tropical items but do not know enough to market them,” he said. “Banacol has category management programs to help.”

The fastest road to success in the category is to find out who the consumer is and what products that consumer prefers, Sheridan said.

“This segment of business should not be lost to just regional ethnic stores, but can be done by a traditional retailer,” Sheridan said. “Why lose that segment?”