"My earrings are an entire education on mangos. They tell a whole story by themselves.”
Marie Piccone is a force to be reckoned with, from her business savvy and her Australian lilt, to, yes, her mango earrings displaying the cubed fruit in its bright flesh.
Golden and colorful as the category she loves, it is a joy to sit across from her and experience the fun energy that helped her company, Manbulloo Limited, rise to an Australian mango powerhouse.
That energy, I have no doubt, is exactly what inspired Giumarra Companies to name Manbulloo the sole source of a mango venture that would become a differentiator for the legacy produce provider.
“We are the exclusive supplier to Giumarra Companies’ mango export program, and exporters in our own right because we believe in demand being driven by flavor,” Marie explains. As the Founder and Owner of Manbulloo, she recalls for me how the success of the quality of the fruit and a mutual dedication to excellence closed the oceanic distance between the two companies. Now, as demand in the United States for its premium mangos has grown, so has Giumarra Companies’ program, along with the grower single-handedly supplying it. “I signed the lease on three mango farms that needed fixing up in early 2005. Now, we have built up the brand to four times the production of what we started at.”
In a parallel that reads as kismet, Craig Uchizono saw potential for the category in the States, advocating and laying the foundation for what is now Giumarra Companies’ exclusive Australian mango import operation.
“With open dialogue, complete trust in each other, awesome customers, and the fact the Australian mangos are unbelievably the best, how can you go wrong?” Craig, now Vice President for Giumarra’s Southern Hemisphere, reflects.
Ten years later, his statement has proven profoundly true, though Australian and U.S. markets both took some convincing.
“After our selection was secured, and even knowing this test program was going to be in very small volumes in the beginning, we put a full marketing campaign behind it,” Craig says. “This was to show all the Australian agencies and growers the market value the United States could offer. The hard work our sales staff and marketing team put toward this program together with the openness we shared with everyone involved allowed things to truly blossom.”
Each season, Giumarra Companies continued listening to customer feedback, shared new ideas for packing, sizing, variety selections, and promotions with Australian growers, and, today, is proud to say the customer base and volume continue to expand beyond everyone’s expectations.
“Initially, we received pushback and refusal to believe these mangos would sell given they are set at a premium price. Well, with the right retailer and vision to make it happen, we proved them wrong,” Craig says.
One of the more antagonizing mysteries of the North American produce industry is why, despite being one of the world’s favorites, mangos have yet to see true success in the U.S. From where Marie sits, it’s because we don’t have the same variety of mangos in the U.S. that have wooed the rest of the world.
“When the U.S. opened the market to Australian mangos in September 2013, we were among the first imports between our two countries. We saw that potential in the U.S., where the variation in mangos is limited, knowing we have something delicious to offer,” Marie tells me.
In fact, she is willing to bet 10 to 1 that if a consumer can taste an Australian-grown R2E2 or Kensington Pride, they will be hooked for life. And while any retailer will tell you a new item is a gamble, she is quick to point out that this is a safe wager.
“Is it gambling if you know the outcome?” Marie laughs, all confidence because of how many times she has seen this challenge play out.
Joining Marie at the hottest table in this proverbial den is Gelson’s Markets, which is completing the circuit needed to see a premium offering like the Australian mango succeed. As it turns out, Gelson’s was the perfect fit to show the rest of the U.S. market what an amazing mango could accomplish.
“Our team and our customers look forward to the Australian mango season every year,” Paul Kneeland, Senior Vice President of Sales and Merchandising for Gelson’s, shares. “Gelson’s customers start asking about the fruit weeks before the season begins. This shows the popularity of the program and the success we have with our partnership with Giumarra.”
He explains excitedly how the produce managers in particular are always really enthused, ready to build amazing displays that draw the customer over.
“We receive photos of these awesome displays dedicating real attention and space to mangos—and it is working. These mangos are selling for $7.99 each, and consumers are asking when they will be back. The flavor and quality, combined with such strong partnership from an active retailer like Gelson’s, are proving there is a percentage of mango lovers out there willing to pay a premium,” Kellee Harris, Giumarra’s Western Region Business Director, reflects.
Not only are Gelson’s team members creating enticing displays, the company is cutting and prepping a value-added option in-house.
“Gelson’s customers start asking about the fruit weeks before the season begins. This shows the popularity of the program and the success we have with our partnership with Giumarra.”
Paul Kneeland, Senior Vice President of Sales and Merchandising, Gelson’s Markets
“We have provided cut Australian mangos to our customers who prefer convenience. Our kitchen team has included the Australian mango in a seasonal salad that was created by Gelson’s Dietitian,” Paul explains. “It is amazing to work with a group that is so dedicated to providing an exceptional customer experience—it fits in perfectly with how Gelson’s goes to market! We couldn’t be more pleased with the grower support and the support of the Giumarra team in building this business and elevating our in-store customer experience.”
It’s a move that Marie and Kellee report typically sells double because consumers can’t help but snack on the contents as soon as they check out.
“We often hear U.S. shoppers saying they didn’t know mangos could taste this good. It’s a whole different eating experience and the only way we could demonstrate that was retail sampling. Now every time we enter a new market, we encourage demos that produce a huge return. I would say we see upward of a 90 percent try-and-buy success,” Marie shares.
It is never easy to bridge the gap to American consumers, especially one spanning from our West Coast to Australia. But, Marie insists, the product makes it simpler due to the loyalty it inspires.
“Australia mangos are derived from India mangos with a totally different flesh composition than what America is used to. Ours is more of a peach experience instead of a jackfruit experience, proving to a curious population that not all mangos are the same. You can truly taste the difference, and our American customers have proven they will wait. They even ask for the time of year when we are back in the market. Combined with gradual education on approach and prep, we are seeing a shift that we are confident will continue to create and sustain its own demand,” Marie explains.
It’s a network that has spread in both reach and support, now encompassing support from the Australian Mango Industry Association (AMIA) and the North America-based National Mango Board (NMB).
Because mangos, Marie explains, inspire joy.
“Only happy memories are associated with mangos—where I come from, these fruits are associated with happy times and joyful experiences,” she says, her movements becoming even more energetic as she speaks.
The comment resonates with me as I think of how, no matter the variety, bright summer green or sunset red and golden yellow, they do look like a palm-sized joyful experience. Even as they continue to fight for a premier spot in the grocery basket, mangos are decorating cakes, topping sushi, and coloring salads.
“Many are using mango as the ultimate fresh treat. It is attainable, but definitely a bit decadent. And because it’s not here all year, those who know of them know they are worth enjoying before they are gone,” Marie smiles.
Manbulloo now grows in three different regions of Northern Australia to produce its addictive mango supply for up to five months in the year. With 100 percent air shipping to ensure absolute quality and freshness, retailers should plan for a two-week lead time, planning as early as April for the September seasonal kickoff.
“Not only are we providing a fruit that inspires such loyalty, even at high pricing, but we are ensuring that other important needs such as environment and economic sustainability are met,” Marie explains, sharing how Manbulloo packaging is made of recycled materials and is recyclable in its own right, while the stickers on the product are edible.
“What we are most proud of is our work with Australia and South Pacific island governments in terms of labor. Those who work with us are going back to their homes and having a positive impact. With some having been a part of our workforce for a decade or more now, it’s a generational shift we are seeing. Employees are earning enough to send their kids to school, build houses for their families, and do great things in their communities in their home countries. And we, in turn, couldn’t do what we do without them,” Marie assures me.
It is no wonder she and her team have been recognized with numerous accolades over the years, with Marie herself having received the 2015 Telstra Business Women’s Entrepreneur Award.
“It’s been an evolution, learning how to sell mangos in the U.S., then working with Gelson’s, which has been an ideal partnership. It offers a team of longstanding and educated produce managers that are passionate about product—having four produce managers in four years recognized is a testament to its program,” Marie observes. “Gelson’s commitment, in-house contests, and faith in us have made all the difference.”
It’s a difference Manbulloo and Giumarra Companies are proving U.S. consumers are ready for, with faith, partnership, amazing mangos, and just the right accessories.