Who doesn’t love a sweet, juicy, delicious mango? Blended into a smoothie, grilled, on top of a salad or burger, or simply scooped out of its skin, mangoes add a little excitement to any standard meal. Sadly, despite being packed with vitamins, minerals, and flavor, as well as being the most popular fruit in the world, consumers in the United States are woefully unaware of the mango.
Enter: National Mango Board, a nonprofit organization based in Orlando, Florida, with the mission to spread the word about the versatility and health benefits of mangoes to consumers, retailers, restaurants, and nutritionists.
“American consumers tend to think of mangoes as an exotic fruit available in a limited season,” says Kristine Concepcion, the National Mango Board’s director of industry relations. “But one of the best things about it is that it’s available year-round.” Because they arrive from Asia, Mexico, South America, and India, one of the 500 different varieties of mangoes is always in season in some part of the world.
“one of the most challenging and rewarding parts of my job is being able to create customized solutions for each person in the supply chain.”
The never-ending mango season inspired the National Mango Board’s “Always Summer” campaign to promote mango consumption in 2015. The National Mango Board is partnering with the National Women’s Soccer League to make mangoes the official fruit of the team, and the campaign will specifically reach out to families, children, and women to promote a healthful lifestyle that incorporates mangoes.
Advocating for a healthful lifestyle comes easily to Concepcion, a former weight-loss consultant and a strong believer in the nutritional benefits of mangoes. “They are high in vitamin C, A, and B6, and are a good source of folate,” she says. “One cup contains twenty different vitamins and minerals and only 100 calories.” Part of the “Always Summer” campaign aims at spreading the story of mangoes with nutritionists, as well as educating consumers about why different nutrients are important.
The most common variety of mango found in American grocery stores is the large, green, and blushed red mango that tends to be more fibrous. Another popular variety is the honey or champagne mango, which is a smaller, yellow fruit. “Many people think that if a mango is green, it isn’t ripe, which is unfortunate because that’s not true,” Concepcion says. “Ripeness is determined by feel: if it gives a little when you squeeze it, it’s ready to eat.”
Mangoes also offer different flavors at different stages of ripeness, the firmer fruit being more tart and best for savory dishes, and the softer, sweeter fruit lending itself to an ice cream topping. “My favorite way to eat a mango is in slices on top of toast and almond butter,” Concepcion says. “Or by itself with lots of lime.”
The United States mango supply chain is a small community of people, and mangoes are a small part of the produce industry. But the National Mango Board has an opportunity to grow the mango category beyond an exotic commodity. “From growers to distributors, these people are passionate about their fruit,” Concepcion says. “They are my motivation to encourage more consumers to try the product.”
The National Mango Board is working with restaurants to include mangoes in more menu items: on top of burgers, in salsa, and in beverages. Examples like these showcase the fruit’s versatility, and how fun they are to cook with and eat. Restaurants are particularly significant because they are often where consumers try mangoes for the first time. In that way, the National Mango Board also interacts with the food and beverage industry.
“We’re currently working with the distribution and retail end of the industry to develop a ‘ripe and ready to eat’ mango program,” Concepcion says. Unlike bananas, avocados, or other fruits that arrive at the supermarket in different stages of ripeness, mangoes arrive as they are, usually not quite at their peak ripeness. Because many shoppers don’t know much about mangoes, if a curious home cook decides to take one home and eat it not knowing what it should taste like, they may be discouraged from trying again if the mango isn’t soft and sweet. “We’re not quite there yet,” she says. “But a program like this is so important for consumer education.”
One key way the National Mango Board engages all cogs in the mango industry wheel is by hosting events and meeting with stakeholders face-to-face—an important part of Concepcion’s job in industry relations. “Hosting outreach meetings and workshops are some of the best ways that we connect and engage industry members,” she says. “And one of the most challenging and rewarding parts of my job is being able to create customized solutions for each person in the supply chain.”
The produce industry is a dynamic and multifaceted one, and the mango industry takes up a unique and ever-changing corner of that world. “I am so blessed to be able to travel to all the places where mangoes grow, and to see the passion that is behind the process,” Concepcion says. “To hear the stories of people who have grown the fruit for generations is inspiring, and being able to be a resource for the industry and see real results is so rewarding.”
The National Mango Board is comprised of twelve extremely dedicated employees who work together to educate the public about this ray of edible sunshine in the produce section. They reflect that sunshine into the industries and members of their extended mango family. In many ways, it’s the perfect team to represent the humble mango: small, diverse, understated, full of goodness, and embodying a never-ending spirit of summer.