What’s hot in specialty produce?

From jackfruit to rambutans, a session at PMA’s Fresh Summit gave the lowdown on the specialty fruit and veg we can expect to see more of

What’s the most popular fruit in the world? If your response is banana, Robert Schueller, director of public relations at Melissa’s/World Variety Produce would be quick to tell you that while North Americans might favour the ubiquitous yellow fruit, the world prefers the mango.

At a special session at the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit in Anaheim, Calif., last month, Schueller, whose Los Angeles-based company is the largest supplier of specialty produce in the United States, gave media folks a rundown of what specialty fruit and vegetables we can expect to see more of in produce departments in the months to come. Tree ripened mangoes were the first on his list of trending fruit.

According to Melissa’s, there are about 1,000 different varieties of mango available around the world today, and over the last few year’s Schueller said seasonal varieties such as the Tree Ripened Mango have been gaining popularity. Though these mangos deliver a superior flavour to many other varieties, he said, they are only available for a short period. Until now. Schueller said a new preconditioned (meaning the fruit has been treated so it ripens within a few days of taking it home from the store) Saperana variety would be hitting the market in November and available all year long. “We’re really looking forward to these because mangoes have been such a trend.”

Here are some other specialties to watch:

Jackfruit – Jackfruit can get up to 100 pounds, making them the largest of the fruits. Schueller said this fruit had been steadily gaining popularity in recent years. Once found only in Asian markets, “about four or five years ago vegans and vegetarians got their hands on them” and started using jackfruit as a stand-in for meat in tacos, burgers and pulled pork. It’s hard to fathom but the texture of it and when you add barbecue sauce, it fools anybody as a substitute. While a whole, hefty jackfruit might be intimidating to consumers, Schueller said to look out for value-added products such as fresh cut jackfruit pods that offer convenience.

Rambutans – Because of its rotund shape and spines, Schueller joked that Americans sometimes confuse this tree fruit with sea urchins, a very different kind of specialty. Rambutans, however, are a cousin to lychees and longans and used to be available only at certain times of the year. Now, however, the fruit can be sourced from multiple areas. “We get it out of Vietnam, Honduras, Guatemala and also Hawaii so now we have them available all year round and they’ve been trending because of that,” said Schueller.

Passion Fruit – Only about 30% of this small fruit is edible; luckily a little goes a long way, said Schueller. Thanks to their growing popularity as an ingredient in beverages and food, these tangy fruits are now available most of the year.

Kumquats – “A good indication that a trend is becoming bigger is that we’re able to get it from multiple sources,” said Schueller. Such is the case with kumquats, which are now sourced from Chile as well as California. He attributes the growing interest in this bite-sized fruit to consumers’ desire for a burst of tangy flavour. “Think of it as a very concentrated orange in one bite.”

Hatch Chiles – Hugely popular in their native New Mexico (they’re named after the Hatch Valley region where they are grown) these peppers are gaining fans across the United States, and becoming a popular ingredient, too. In fact, a recent article on BonAppetite.com called Hatch Chiles “the pumpkin spice of the South West” that people can’t get enough of.  “The Hatch Chile flavour is addictive,” said Schueller, whose company stages popular Hatch chile “roastings” in the parking lots of thousands of grocery stores each August and September. It’s a big trend, he says, noting sales have been growing 10% to 20% every year.

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