The specialty banana category is growing, according to suppliers.

Dennis Christou, vice president of marketing for Del Monte Fresh Produce, Coral Gables, Fla., said sales of products such as plantains and manzanos have jumped. He attributes the increase to consumers’ desire to eat healthier while maintaining variety.

“Consumers have developed more sophisticated taste profiles and as trends in healthy eating and interest in exotic foods continue to grow, so does the demand for exotic and specialty bananas,” Christou said.

Del Monte offers several varieties of specialty bananas including plantains, manzanos, baby bananas and red bananas.

Los Alamitos, Calif.-based Frieda’s Inc., has an extensive list of specialty bananas it sources from growers in Central America, said promotions manager Alex Jackson.

The company offers red bananas, baby bananas, plantains, manzanos, burro bananas and dried bananas.

“Red bananas have a sweet taste and a creamy texture. Manzano bananas have a firm texture with a tart-apple aroma. Burros have a stubby, chunky shape and a sweet-and-sour taste,” Jackson said.

Dole Fresh Fruit, Westlake Village, Calif., also offers specialty bananas, including reds and baby varieties.

“These types of bananas are becoming more prevalent in the retail supermarkets and can be found displayed with the conventional cavendish bananas, which still remain the most popular variety,” said Bil Goldfield, communications manager.

Still, it can be difficult to market unique varieties.

Christou thinks marketing specialty bananas to children can be a successful method.

“The colors, unique taste and interesting sizes of specialty bananas are appealing to kids and offer tremendous opportunities to increase consumption among younger consumers and adults who seek variety,” he said.

Del Monte recently updated its miniature banana packaging to include an image of the company’s new mascot, Monte the Monkey.

“Already the perfect sized snack for kids, the image of Monte will help encourage kids to eat the fruit,” Christou said.

The new package also includes a hang tag instead of a bag and features a “how to/when to eat” section, he said.

The taste is great for kids, too.

“Kids should also enjoy the sweeter taste versus traditional cavendish bananas, and parents can feel confident knowing that they have all of the same great nutritional values,” Christou said.

Location is also important.

“We recommend that retailers display specialty banana varieties on their tropical tables to enhance their variety of offerings,” Jackson said.

However, Jackson said other options can also work well.

“Sometimes it’s also nice to weave in baskets of specialty bananas with the standard cavendish bananas,” she said.

Sampling can also help.

“Most specialty bananas are at their optimum flavor when the outside skin turns black. But sometimes consumers are hesitant to purchase them that way. So, when bananas ripen up, it’s a perfect opportunity for produce managers to sample them to their shoppers,” Jackson said.