Exploring The Specialty Fruit Consumer

Kelli Beckel, Senior Marketing Manager, Nielsen Perishables Group

It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that specialty fruit, which includes products such as mango, coconut and pomegranate as well as up-and-comers guava, sapote and Kiwano melon, is a produce category on the upswing. In a retail environment where consumers continue to seek “new” eating experiences and gain exposure to multi-cultural flavors and cuisines, specialty fruit offers a unique mix of flavors consumers know and love (think mango and pomegranate) as well as more exotic fare such as figs, passion fruit, and Cactus Pear. This valuable category is rife with opportunities for growth and department differentiation. While it currently accounts for just 2 percent of fruit sales, the total ring for baskets containing specialty fruit is 45 percent larger than the average produce basket.

Specialty fruit also offers a prime example of the power of produce as an influencer across the store. Flavors like coconut, mango, pomegranate, even kiwi, and guava are popping up on labels from candy and juice products to sauces and packaged meat dinners.

But what do the numbers say? During the 52 weeks ending April 26, 2014, specialty fruit was purchased by more than a quarter of U.S. households, a figure that stands to increase as consumers continue to broaden their tastes and seek more adventurous ingredients for every-day meals and snacks.

Specialty fruit was also the third-fastest growing fruit category in terms of average dollar sales. Distribution increased for the majority of specialty fruit categories. Despite significant price hikes across the category during this time, specialty fruit volume sales remained stable from the previous year — hinting at shoppers’ willingness to pay a premium for “new” eating experiences.

Specialty Fruit Stars

With 21 colorful varieties, specialty fruit has room to grow. During the latest 52 weeks, the five top-selling specialty fruit categories were mango, kiwi, pomegranate, papaya, and tomatillo. Of the Top 5, both mango and pomegranate experienced average dollar, and volume per store per week, increases of roughly 10 percent. Guava, a product featured heavily in Hispanic cuisine, outpaced growth of some of the larger sub-categories, up roughly 30 percent in both average dollar and volume sales. Like many of the smaller varieties, the sales jump with guava was aided by a significant increase in distribution points — up 61 percent compared to the previous year.

Despite a 12 percent increase in average retail price, “other specialty fruit” increased average dollar and volume sales 40 percent and 26 percent respectively — suggesting that shoppers are willing to pay a premium for products like dragonfruit and peacharines. “Other specialty fruit” growth was also aided by a nearly 40 percent increase in distribution. Though smaller than the more ubiquitous mango and pomegranate varieties, sub-categories including sapote and passion fruit increased average volume sales by more than 75 percent.

Reaching Specialty Fruit Buyers And Non-Buyers

The key to continued growth for this emerging category is shopper understanding — for both shoppers currently purchasing specialty fruit products and, perhaps more importantly, the shoppers who aren’t buying — and strategizing based on their needs.

Specialty fruit buyers are relatively varied in terms of demographics and shopping behaviors. The shopper group that indexes highest for specialty fruit is highly affluent and generally without children in the home. These shoppers are typically 55 to 65 years of age and purchase premium, high-quality fresh products. Affluent couples (ages 25 to 34 and 55 to 64) and families (ages 35 to 44 with children under the age of 10) who primarily purchase organic and natural products also heavily shop the specialty fruit category. Merchandising specialty fruits with recipe cards or demonstrations on “how to eat” could appeal to these adventurous shoppers seeking quality fresh ingredients and snacks. Couples and families that heavily shop Hispanic products (indicating a high likelihood of Hispanic/Caribbean heritage) also index high for specialty fruit. These households tend to skew toward the lower income ranges. Cross-promoting with other items typically associated with Hispanic cuisine could help drive incremental sales with these heavy buyers.

In-store education/signage can go a long way toward capturing shopper groups — especially around what the product is, how to select a ripe one, how to use/peel. These shoppers are typically from smaller middle-income households concerned with convenient meal options, and middle-income families whose purchases skew toward kid-oriented products (including convenience products). Merchandising specialty fruit as a grab-and-go snack option or cross-promoting as a fun way to spice up a pre-made or frozen meal could help bring specialty fruit into the mainstream for shoppers concerned with convenience.