While it’s clear by now that the pandemic helped give overall consumption of produce a lift, what continues to make gains on that lift are exotic fruits and vegetables.
“Now more so than ever, retail clientele are asking for exotics and I do think this is driven by the pandemic,” says Anthony Serafino of Exp Group, LLC based in North Bergen, NJ. “Consumers are still looking for healthier fruits and vegetables. They’re concerned about their health and looking to boost their immune system and do it naturally. We feel like this is an avenue for us to gain clientele.”
Of particular growth for Exp Group is dragon fruit. “We’re seeing really good traction on the dragon fruit we’re bringing in from South and Central America,” says Serafino. However he’s also seeing growing consumption on items that perhaps were once considered exotic. “Papayas for instance are moving towards becoming conventional. We’re seeing papayas being talked about in the same space as an apple or orange,” says Serafino. “We’re moving anywhere from 8,000-10,000 boxes a week of papayas.” Plantains are another item that while heavily consumed by the Latino population, are now being increasingly consumed in conventional settings. “It’s similar to what happened to the avocado in the past 10 years. It was an ethic, Hispanic commodity and now we’re seeing it consumed very very conventionally.”
Finding retail space
It’s shaping what retail shelves look like as well. “These types of items are moving into conventional shelf space. You walk into a retail space and typically you see bananas first. I’m now seeing avocados with bananas and apples are more towards the back. We’re seeing aloe vera getting more shelf space too for example,” says Serafino.
And as U.S. consumers move into holiday thinking for Thanksgiving and Christmas, they’re making space on their tables as well for exotic items. “Just last week we moved 1,000 boxes of dragon fruit. I never would have imagined moving 1,000 boxes of dragon fruit two weeks before Thanksgiving,” says Serafino. “We still also moved 1,200-1,300 sacks of sweet potatoes last week and that’s on the same level almost that we’re moving dragon fruit.”
So while consumers' exploration of exotic items continues to grow and push items into bigger spotlights at the grocery store, what’s key says Serafino is that consumers are driving this trend. “If they’re picking up these items, they’re doing their own education. The growth in these items is organic--they’re more knowledgeable about what they’re putting into their body and that’s really important to underline,” he adds.
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