Supermarkets have slashed the prices of tropical fruits to prevent consumers deserting the category.

Value and volume sales of tropical fruits nosedived in the opening months of the recession as consumers re-evaluated their spend.

However, the big four have hit back by dropping the price of a large mango to an average of £1.36, making it 9.4% cheaper than a year ago [The Grocer 33]. Yellow honeydew melons are down 9.6% at £1.78, grapefruit are 3.4% cheaper at 29p and pineapples have fallen by the same to £1.58.

The price drop reflects retailers' efforts to prevent consumers cutting back on what they deem to be luxury purchases. "The supermarkets have been promoting very strongly on price," said one major supplier. "Fruits such as pineapples, which had been selling well, are grown on an 18-month cycle and would have been in the ground pre-recession, so keeping sales up through price activity makes sense. It is keeping consumers in the market who might otherwise have dropped out."

The strategy seems to be working, with Kantar Worldpanel data showing consumption having risen 2.2% to 926 million occasions in the 12 months to August 2009. Children have been particularly key to the growth, increasing their consumption by 9.4%.

"At the onset of the financial downturn, Del Monte anticipated the need to support the beleaguered consumer in maintaining their fruit choice," said Del Monte UK MD James Harvey. "Del Monte Gold Extra Sweet Pineapple is proving strongly resilient, with volumes up and consumers buying pineapples more often than ever."

Round-pound activity on tropical fruit had also boosted sales, another supplier claimed, but warned that prolonged low pricing could have a long-term damaging effect on profitability. "Volumes are up but values are not. My concern is that people are increasingly thinking fruits like pineapples cost just £1. When the market changes and we want to get higher prices again, we will have to re-educate our consumers."