The exotic shape of supermarket fruit to come

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The Independent Online

Sales of mangoes, papayas and other tropical fruits have soared this summer, becoming mainstream choices rather than exotic treats. Sainsbury's is now considering whether to reclassify the mango from "exotic" status to that of other, more traditional, fruits such as grapes and strawberries. Tesco says the fruit is already classed as part of its "core" range.

Analysts put the trend for the newer produce down to consumers wanting more exciting salad combinations than lettuce and tomatoes. Health-conscious shoppers are also buying exotic fruits that have been described as "superfoods" because of their beneficial qualities.

Market reports from Sainsbury's show that sales of mangoes are up 450 per cent compared with the same time last year. The supermarket giant's 25-strong exotic fruit range, which includes papaya, passion fruit and kumquats, has seen sales soar by 135 per cent in the past 12 months. The range is now the fastest growing section in the supermarket's fruit and vegetable departments.

Sainsbury's exotic fruit buyer Victoria Smith said: "Exotic fruits are enormously popular with our customers - if sales of fruits such as mangoes and papaya continue as they are, then in five years time they may well be sitting alongside fruits that we eat everyday such as grapes and strawberries.

"Many customers have long regarded mangoes as a bit of a treat, but clearly this sweet and juicy fruit is becoming an everyday choice if recent sales are anything to go by."

The supermarket is preparing to trial even more exotic products in the near future, including the cherimoya - a sweet, creamy, sub-tropical fruit grown in New Zealand.

Its flavour is described as a combination of pineapple, papaya, passion fruit, banana, mango and lemon.

Then there is the chikoo - a fleshy, brown fruit the size of a small tomato which has the flavour and texture of cinnamon, apple, and pear.

The increasing sales are being boosted in the main by exotic fruit "virgins", according to research, with 60 per cent of sales to customers who are trying the produce for the first time.

And people are buying with a conscience; sales of the Fairtrade variety of mango have increased by 200 per cent year on year.

Tesco has seen a similar sales boom, with the supermarket group selling more than half

a million mangoes in the past week alone. Its shelf space was doubled in May this year to keep pace with demand.

A spokesman for Tesco said: "The huge growing demand is down to their increased culinary use as healthy eating lunchtime snacks, in salads and even in ice cream sorbets."

Other "star" performers in the Tesco tropical range include the physalis, with sales up 57 per cent on the same time last year and passion fruit, which has seen a 114 per cent increase over the past 12 months.

The booming market may also have been helped by the popularity of celebrity chefs such as Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay, both of whom regularly feature exotic fruits in their recipes.

However, environmentalists will be concerned about the amount of "food miles" fruit such as mangoes have to travel around the world in order to satisfy consumer demand.

They have urged British shoppers to source their fresh produce from local farmers and markets rather than buy food that has been transported thousands of miles by plane and sea.

The UK exotic fruit market is worth £62m a year.