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Importers support mango board’s assessment hike

by Tim Linden | June 03, 2011

An informal survey of mango importers showed support for the assessment increase for the National Mango Board.

While none of the half-dozen people interviewed expressed strong reservations about the assessment increase, a couple of importers said that the rationale behind the increase needs to be explained a bit better to the grower community.

In May, the U.S. Department of Agriculture published a proposed rule in the Federal Register, as required by law, which would increase the assessment rate on fresh mangos by 50 percent to three-quarters of a cent per pound from one-half cent per pound. The resulting dollars would be used to fund the board and its activities.

In 2010, about 770 million pounds of fresh mangos were imported into the United States, so the proposed assessment rate would create an operational budget of more than $5 million.

Five years ago, when the board was established, it collected assessments for a full year without conducting any activities, which has allowed it to have aggressive budgets for the past four years.

Although the assessment rate has not reached the $4 million level, the budget has for the last couple of years. A rise in the assessment rate would allow promotional and research activities to grow while observers say no increase would result in a reduction in activities.

“I am absolutely in favor of an increase in the assessment,” said Larry Nienkerk, manager at Splendid Products LLC in Burlingame, CA. “The board has done excellent work, and now we need to take the industry to the next level.”

He said that the increase is justified on two accounts. In the first place, general cost increases over the last four or five years will require a reduction in activities without an increase, so an assessment boost is needed just to keep pace. In addition, the U.S. mango industry, largely because of the efforts of the board, has seen consumption rise significantly with no drop in price. For this trend to continue, Mr. Nienkerk said that increased promotions are necessary.

Ronnie Cohen, a partner at Vision Import Group LLC in River Edge, NJ, concurred. “We are in favor of the increased assessment,” he said. “We need it for the industry as a whole to continue to help increase the consumption of mangos. There is a lot of work that can be done in both research and promotion to help consumption.”

Bill Vogel, president of Tavilla Sales Co. in Los Angeles, also supports the increase and does not believe the additional quarter-cent per pound should be a controversial topic.

“It’s not that significant,” Mr. Vogel said. “We’ve seen the benefits of having a mango promotional board. Ask the growers in Ecuador how it has worked for them. They were about to go broke in 2009, but since then they have been doing pretty good. Same for Peru and Brazil.”

He continued, “We’ve seen a lot of promotional activity for mangos at retail and foodservice. The board has done a nice job.”

Still another supporter was Isabel Freeland, vice president of Coast Tropical in San Diego, who served as chairman of the National Mango Board for a time during its first several years in existence.

“I fully support the assessment increase,” said Ms. Freeland. “When I was [chairman of the board] I suggested the increase because I saw the positive impact that the programs have had. We need the funds to continue to do that work.”

Ms. Freeland said that some of the very important research work that the board has funded is coming to fruition, and she would like to see more extensive efforts, which requires money.

“They have worked on studies on bone density and cardiovascular health” and the positive effect of mangos, she said. “We are now getting to the trial stage, and that’s expensive.”

The longtime mango industry operative said that there is some opposition to the increased assessment, but she believes it is mostly because of lack of communication.

“You do hear some opposition at the grower level,” she said. “They are operating on very tight margins, and they don’t see the benefits of the mango promotions as much as we do because they are not as close to it.”

She added that the board, of which she has been an integral part, needs to do a little better job of communicating its good works to the grower.

Chris Ciruli, chief operating officer of Ciruli Bros. LLC in Nogales, AZ, did not express opposition to the increase, but he has concerns.

“We have been a supporter of promotions from the very beginning, but there is some divergent thought about how the promotion money should be spent.”

Mr. Ciruli said that the promotional efforts of the board have generally been good, but he said that in recent years less money is being spent directly on retail promotion, and that bothers him.

“The board is not totally reflective of the people paying into it, and I think there is a little bit of a problem,” Mr. Ciruli said. “We want to see more in-store promos and more of the money spent slicing and dicing.”

Mr. Ciruli said that he communicates with his customers — which are some of the top chainstores all over the country — every day, and they tell him that there has been a decrease in in-store promotions.

“People ask if I’m satisfied with the activities of the board,” he said. “I’m satisfied if my customers are satisfied, and right now some of them don’t seem satisfied.”

He reiterated that he is not opposed to the increased assessment, but he would like to see the resulting dollars allocated a bit differently. “The money isn’t getting to the retailers fast enough. There seems to be a little bit of a disconnect.”

With the publishing of the proposal, the USDA established a public-comment period of 60 days, which will end July 11. The assessment increase, if approved by the secretary of agriculture, will be made effective at some point after the final rule is published, but it most likely will be in effect for the 2012 calendar year.

The National Mango Board conducts a variety of research and promotional activities designed to increase consumption of the fruit.

All first handlers and importers of more than 500,000 pounds of mangos annually must pay the assessment, regardless of the point of origin of the mangos they handle.