Tropicals are the luxury consumers can afford themselves when eating out less often, suppliers said, and it is up to retailers to promote properly and take advantage of this window.

“In this economy, consumers may be seeking a bit of luxury at home instead of going out to eat, and no other category provides that ‘tropical escape,’” Karen Caplan, president and chief executive officer of Frieda’s Inc., Los Alamitos, Calif., said in an e-mail. “It’s important for retailers to successfully merchandise their tropical and specialty items to show that they have variety in their produce departments.”

Mark Falkner, sales director for limes and tropicals at L&M Cos., Raleigh, N.C., said cross-promoting and use of displays also can help give tropicals the visual attention needed to increase sales.

“Peppers, jalapeños — anything they can use to help focus attention that will help that movement,” he suggested, rather than the common practice of lumping all tropicals together in one place.

Falkner also said he encourages his salespeople to cross-promote items like limes and mangoes to retailers.

Jeff Shilling, vice president of procurement for RLB Food Distributors, West Caldwell, N.J. said the biggest challenge still for retailers is displays.

“Rather than take a gamble for an item that you’re not sure is going to sell, some retailers are more conservative,” he said.

Caplan agreed point-of-purchase signs where items are merchandised gives consumers a lot of information they are looking for, including what the product is, key benefits and flavor profiles, how to use it and where to find more information and recipes on Frieda’s Web site.

“In addition to detailed labeling, informational POP and a rich, consumer-friendly Web site, Frieda’s also educates and inspires the consumer via media outreach,” she said, giving examples of press releases, feature story ideas and recipes for new and in-season products.

Mary Ostlund, marketing director of Brooks Tropicals Inc., Homestead, Fla., said highlighting ways the fruit can be used is another wise marketing strategy.

“We know a lot of our papayas are used in fresh-cut,” she said. “Some of the more successful grocery stores you sell it as whole, but when you’ve got more than what you can sell, you chop it up into processed, and when you’ve got more than you need in process, you can make smoothies out of it.”

Ostlund added most of Brooks’ retailers have good sales when they slice a papaya open and cover it with (plastic) wrap.

“It’s a way that has initiated a lot of people,” she said. “When they see it open, they see it as a kind of a melon.”

Jeff Shilling, vice president of procurement for RLB Food Distributors, West Caldwell, N.J. said RLB is seeing strong sales of fresh-cut mangoes.

“That’s a big item for us,” he said. “We are seeing a switch from consumers from small containers to large — 8 ounce to 1 pound — and small fruit platters to large fruit platters.”

Shilling believes people are not denying themselves the luxury of tropicals, but they just have less spendable income and are making more conscious decisions.

Jessie Capote, vice president of operations and co-owner of J&C Tropicals Inc., Miami, added with the growth of tropicals has come regional penetration for new items.

“These products are penetrating the interior of the country, but that’s something that’s been going on for four or five years,” he said, explaining that the Northeast and West Coast have always been strong but the Midwest is now growing as a tropicals destination as more consumers become familiar with the items and how to eat them.