Among specialty produce items gaining in popularity with U.S. consumers are Asian vegetables and tropical items.
“What is interesting about the specialty category is the crossover between the products and which category they fall into,” said Alex Jackson Berkley, assistant sales manager for Frieda’s, based in Los Alamitos, CA, who recently appeared in a feature in the trade publication The Packer.
“Many fruit items that are popular in the Asian culture are also common in the Latin culture, like dragon fruit (photograph), lychee, rambutan, jackfruit and mangosteen.
“The Asian vegetable category has taken off as many people are becoming more familiar with the items through Asian restaurants,” Jackson Berkley said in The Packer.
“Retailers are looking to compete with the big Asian retailers by bringing in a variety of Asian items at a low retail price. This is going beyond bok choy and napa cabbage. Items like bittermelon, Chinese okra, gai lan and Chinese long beans are more common in the retail (setting).”
World Variety Produce of Los Angeles, which markets under the Melissa’s brand, has seen increasing interest in turmeric, petite baby bok choy and petite Shanghai bok choy, among other Asian items, while jackfruit continues on an upward trajectory despite its massive size.
“The trendiest fruit of them all in the category of tropicals is definitely the jackfruit,” Robert Schueller of Melissa’s added in The Packer article. “It has so much potential.”
“The only problem with the jackfruit and why not every retailer is carrying it is because it’s the largest of all fruit,” Schueller said. “These fruits are typically at least 12 pounds, but on average they are around 20 pounds.”
When the retail price is $2-3 per pound, jackfruit quickly becomes quite pricey.
“It’s a value when it’s per pound, but the thing is that retailers don’t want to deal with cutting it up because there’s a whole art to doing that … It would be considered kind of a tricky fruit to handle,” Schueller said.
Jackson Berkley also noted turmeric and jackfruit as growth items, particularly due to the plant-based eating trend.
Schueller attributed much of the buzz around jackfruit to its use among vegans as a meat substitute.
Both Jackson Berkley and Schueller mentioned dragon fruit has been a hot item as well.
HLB Specialities of Fort Lauderdale, FL report papayas and rambutan are best-sellers for the company, with rambutan experiencing the most growth since HLB began offering it three years ago.
Ecoripe Tropicals of Medley, FL points out rambutan, dragon fruit, durian, longan, lychee, mangosteen and soursop are among the items drawing the most interest for the company.