Avocado sales exploded when ripening programs blossomed, mango shippers and marketers said.
It’s an idea they have considered for their own product, although they added that it’s not as easy as it might seem.
“When the avocado industry went to that, advertising ripe fruit in the marketplace, their sales went up, and I think they continue to use that as a model,” said Chris Ciruli, a partner with Nogales, Ariz.-based Ciruli Bros. LLC. “The mango industry could move fruit in that direction, and we’d see our sales continue to climb.”
“But that’s much tougher to get to and easy to say,” Ciruli said. “When you’ve seen small retailers that can really dial it in and get it right with mature fruit on displays, you see some incredible sales go on.”
Challenges abound in ripening programs, said Gary Clevenger, managing member of Freska Produce International LLC, Oxnard, Calif.
“There are opportunities for ripening mangoes; we just haven’t found the right method,” he said. “Probably, the more precise point here is, without retailers on board, there aren’t going to be any importers who will want to get involved in a ripening program.
“Most receivers now like to have their fruit hard on arrival. The mango can go ugly fast but in the same sense I think it’s proven that putting ripe fruit on the shelves will go faster.”
The idea does have some marketing possibilities, said Richard Campbell, senior curator of tropical fruit with Coral Gables, Fla.-based Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden Center.
“I think there’s a lot more interest in that,” he said. “The fresh-cut is what’s really pushed that forward. Anytime you do fresh-cut, you have to have some consistent maturity of your fruit, so there’s a lot more development of ripening facilities where you’re doing fresh-cut.”
Juice makers have a need for ripe fruit, and that process could work for fresh sales, Campbell added.
“It’s not that much of a stretch to take it and use those same ripening facilities to make those ready-to-eat mangoes,” he said.
He added that Florida had a ripe-and-ready-to-eat program in the 1980s.
A key is building demand for ripened mangoes, Campbell said.
“The only way, to me, is working with culinary uses, fresh-cut and ripe-and-read-to-eat programs,” he said. At our mango festival, we have an upscale ripe-mango market feel with ready-to-eat mangoes. Anybody that can resist mangoes when they’re ripe is just not human.”
He added that retailers in Mexico have ripe-and-ready mango programs.
“People could eat them that day, so that’s a good thing,” he said. “We haven’t seen nearly as much of that in the states, and we need it.”
Getting retailers to buy ripened fruit may be challenge, however, said Greg Golden, sales manager and co-owner of Amazon Produce Network, Mullica Hill, N.J.
“Very few customers want their fruit soft,” he said. “Most retailers and wholesalers want their fruit hard, with a shelf life. When fruit turns soft, it has to go to a wholesaler market with price protection. Customers will want a discount.
“We have some processors that like it to be pre-ripened. There’s only a handful of retailers who will accept the fruit with some give to it.”
Clevenger noted that shelf life is a priority for retailers.
“The way it works is when we’re shipping fruit to retailers, their receiving departments are all looking for hard fruit,” he said. “They have requirements for brix levels that they require inbound. They want to hold it on their shelves and let it sit there and let it ripen naturally.”
Larry Nienkerk, partner and general manager of Burlingame, Calif.-based Splendid Products LLC, and chairman of the National Mango Board, said comparing the marketing of ripened mangoes to ripened avocados was, essentially, akin to comparing apples to oranges.
“Avocados you can carry for a great deal of time before you allow them to ripen, whereas mangoes, you don’t have so much of a window of opportunity,” he said.
“The fruit, when it starts to ripen, if you don’t have a place to go with it — like a major chain store that wants 1,500 boxes a day, and you’re ripening for them, but there are only one or two of your customers who want that — you potentially lose it.”
Not that it evenutally couldn’t work, he said.
“If all the stores wanted ripened, you’d have a naturally developing situation where you had specially ripening distributors,” he said.
“It’s a slow process, and we’re kind of a ways away from that. It’s very difficult. Do I see it happening? I do, at least selectively in some stores.”
If ripening programs ever become a reality, it will happen only after careful planning, said William Watson, the mango board’s executive director.
“We think it makes a lot of sense but not until we feel we can do it right, and we’re not there yet,” he said.