James Watson, sourcing for Robinson Fresh in Eden Prairie, MN, has been with the company for a decade, working within its mango program during that time, and has seen the company grow and prosper in the segment.
”Our mango program’s history started with Mexico imports. Now, there are many other countries, including Ecuador, Peru, Brazil and Guatemala; however, Mexico continues to be where the highest volume of our mangos comes from,” he said. “The combination of these programs along with Mexico provides a 12-month supply of mangos into the U.S. for our customers.”
Robinson Fresh invests in a number of ways to build strong supply plans in high-consumer demand categories, and a lot of its success reverts back to its growers. The firm offers mangos in its conventional fruit label of Happy Chameleon and in its organic label of Tomorrow’s Organics.
In mangos, investments have been made in growing, supply chain technology, as well as supply chain logistics to improve shelf life and quality. “Our agronomists also work with our growers to build expertise and new capabilities to improve the growing processes and yields,” Watson said. “These investments strengthen our relationships with our growers and ensure more success together in this complicated supply chain.”
When it comes to selling mangos, he added that being able to accurately forecast the trends within the season has helped contribute to its success. ”Because every season can be different, it takes extensive market experience to satisfy our customers’ desires to promote the category and grow their overall tropical programs,” Watson said. “We provide this experience and guidance with information from our category insights team and a great number of account managers that work closely with individual customers.”
As far as trends are concerned, the firm’s mango specialist noted that “red varieties make up the majority of our volume, but yellow varieties like Ataulfos are gaining in popularity. As far as packaging goes, for the first time in four years, whole mangos grew faster than value-added in 2016. Also, we offer mangos in an industry standard carton as well as our Happy Chameleon club pack cartons, which can be sold as individual consumer unit.”
Mexico’s mango import season just started in February, and so far Robinson Fresh is seeing a typical season with good, sustainable supply.
”We aren’t seeing any gaps or issues in the supply chain yet, which should mean an average year. Last year was a very atypical year with some weather effects we hadn’t seen in the industry in the last 10 years,” Watson said. “We had an unstable market with fluctuating volumes and shortages in supply during the beginning of the season when it should have been ramping up in volume in the month of March.”
This year Peru saw a significant drought affecting the regions where mangos are grown. This left the Peruvian season with a need to close earlier than normal because the fruit was reaching high levels of maturity with the shock of a lack of rains. This will leave the United States much more dependent on Mexico in the month of March.
”This year will likely start the season with more aggressive pricing than last year,” he said. “This year we do not expect the same inflated prices at the beginning of the season, with more stable price points through the months of peak production. With steady supply, we anticipate steady pricing.”
Watson noted there is a lot of discussion with retailers and suppliers about conditioning of mangos to provide consumers with a ripe and ready product that will improve the eating quality of the fruit they pick up in stores and will encourage repeat purchases. “Conditioning is something other fruits like avocados have been involved in for much longer, but in general, the mango industry is only now advancing in the science and art of this process, making it a newer development,” he said.
Mangos fit well into the company’s growing tropical department.
“In the overall tropicals category we have seen significant growth, with an 8 percent increase in volume over the last four years,” he said, noting that mangos are a significant player in that category. “Mangos specifically make up 9 percent of the tropicals category and for the first time in four years, whole mangos grew faster than value-added.” He added that growth in any whole product often means that a level of consumer education has been reached in understanding recipes and utilization of the product.