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The $400 Pineapple: A Taste of Luxury or Just Pricey Fanfare?

  • The $396 Rubyglow pineapple, with its distinctive red exterior, caters to niche markets seeking unique, luxury fruit experiences despite the high price.
  • Although it offers a sweet, non-bitter taste, the pineapple’s primary appeal lies in its novelty and visual appeal, making it more of a status symbol than a staple purchase.

Imagine yourself with $400 to spend on an indulgent dining experience: premium caviar, exquisite wine or perhaps an elaborate multi-course menu at an upscale eatery could all make an appearance!

Or you could splurge for one expensive pineapple.

Melissa’s Produce of California is selling this specialty fruit and veggie seller that boasts of their Rubyglow pineapple which boasts of its distinctive red exterior and sweet taste at $395.99 each. Del Monte Wholesaler specialized specifically in pineapple sales took nearly 15 years to create this red hued fruit; initially only limited crops were released for sale in China early this year before Del Monte decided to test how well its item would sell here and Melissa’s began selling at such an astronomical price point earlier this year!

Market your (high-priced) fruit product now may not seem the right time in America, given soaring grocery costs recently which made headlines and stretched consumers budgets thin. But as inflation and unemployment persists many Americans are choosing to spend less.

Yet there remains enough interest in premium fruit to convince Del Monte of bringing its Rubyglow variety from Costa Rica into America.

“Consumers are willing to pay for something that’s special,” said Cindy van Rijswick, fresh produce strategist for Rabobank’s global research team. When it comes to specialty produce, “there’s always a small market for higher-end restaurants, or foodies, or certain online channels,” she said.

Recent years have seen Americans exhibit an extraordinary interest for unique fruit varieties such as Honeycrisp apples, Cotton Candy grapes, Sumo Citrus fruits and vertically grown Japanese strawberries – often paying higher premiums – than previous decades. Now they’re hungry to taste different fruit options that provide exciting new possibilities – and are prepared to shell out extra.

But isn’t a $400 pineapple overkill?

The rise of premium fruit

At its introduction over thirty years ago, there weren’t many options in stores to select from when searching for apples. But with Honeycrisp’s arrival came more variety for consumers to select from in supermarkets across North America.

Red Delicious, Golden Delicious and McIntosh apples were popular selections at most picnics when Jim Luby, professor in the horticultural science department at University of Minnesota was alive, said Luby. But these varieties weren’t the only fruit available back then – there wasn’t even an apple tree nearby to keep people supplied with fruit! “If you didn’t go out to a local orchard, you didn’t have that many choices.”

Honeycrisp fit this demand perfectly — sweet, crisp and innovative all at the same time.

“It became popular in Minnesota amongst our growers,” said Luby, who was part of the team that developed the variety. “There wasn’t that much production. So it was priced high. And yet it kept selling.”

Marketing new produce is often an expensive process: researchers must breed and crossbreed seeds to find something both delicious and resilient enough for commercial success. Plant scientists then have to convince growers to dedicate resources that could otherwise go towards proven varieties instead.

However, Honeycrisp proved that risk can be justified and since then variety in produce section has seen significant increase. According to Rabobank which used USDA data, per capita availability (a good proxy for consumption) of higher priced fruits such as berries mangos and avocados has seen steady increases whereas cheaper fruit like apples and bananas have generally held their value and availability has essentially stayed flat over this same time frame.

Some specialty fruits have even achieved cult followings: cotton candy-sweet grapes emerged onto the scene in 2011 and quickly rose in popularity; while Sumo Citrus, an amalgamation of navel oranges, pomelos and mandarins was initially more subdued but has recently experienced rapid growth.

Oishii’s specialty strawberries grown indoors on an environmentally controlled vertical farm were introduced for sale to consumers for $50 per pack of eight when first made available to the general public in 2018.

Oishii provides more than just ordinary berries; they sell luxury items. Packed in flat boxes that highlight each fruit individually – much more like what one finds at an artisan chocolate truffle shop than in mold-hiding plastic containers you find at supermarkets – each fruit should be perfect!

“Even at $50, we had thousands of people on the waitlist constantly,” said Oishii CEO Hiroki Koga.

Buzzy or not, $50 for strawberries is simply unsustainable. Thanks to funding rounds and improved technology, Oishii products have become much more readily available and cheaper; you can buy Oishii berries in mainstream grocery stores for around $10-$14 per pack.

Del Monte makes its move

Del Monte researchers have long experimented with different varieties of pineapples, creating proprietary fruits with unique characteristics while constantly refining taste profiles. In 2020 they unveiled the Pinkglow pineapple with pink flesh in its own custom box as a special present to share.

The Pinkglow was never supposed to be a grocery list staple, said Melissa Mackay, VP of marketing in North America at Del Monte. “It’s a hostess gift, it’s a Mother’s Day gift,” she said. Instagram and TikTok food influencers took full advantage of this moment, cutting open and appreciating its vibrant hue before reviewing (in which most came back as “very sweet”) their fruit experience.

Pinkglow started at around $50 but can now be found for much less online – usually between $8 and $29 which are still steep prices for such an extravagant item.

If you can afford it, splurging on a pink pineapple is “permissible, because you’re investing in something that’s good for you,” said Melanie Zanoza Bartelme, associate director of Mintel Food & Drink. “It’s like people who go to Erewhon and spend almost $20 on a smoothie that a celebrity created,” she said, referring to the high-end Los Angeles grocery store known for collaborating with celebrities on pricey smoothies (like Hailey Bieber’s Strawberry Glaze Skin Smoothie, priced at $19 for a 20-ounce cup).

Still, she noted, there is a “blank space between a $16 pineapple and a $400 pineapple.”

Is it worth it?

Melissa’s Produce offers everything from truffles and mangosteens to kumquats; their website describes Rubyglow as an exceptional treat and luxurious fruit, adding “for any gourmand, this gift makes an unforgettable impression. “

Melissa’s Produce has seen only moderate success with this pitch; initially they started off selling 50 pineapples to restaurants throughout Las Vegas and Southern California for display purposes – this number has fallen significantly over time, according to Robert Schueller of Melissa’s Produce who led public relations for this endeavor. So far they’ve sold about half their initial inventory over time – as stated by Robert Schueller himself as director of public relations of Melissa’s Produce.

“There’s a market for this,” Schueller said. It’s just a very small, very niche market. “This is not something for everybody.”

Melissa’s took steps to increase buzz about their product by reaching out to various food influencers such as Bo Corley, an accomplished chef who shares recipes on his social channels.

The pineapple “was absolutely delightful,” Corley said. “There’s almost like a bitter aftertaste when you eat too much pineapple,” he explained. “You don’t have that with the Rubyglow.”

But Corley believes it wasn’t worth $400. Corley can see some people spending to acquire one for itself if not solely due to its spectacular exterior design.

“I think charcuterie boards this Christmas, Thanksgiving — you’re going to see this Rubyglow as a centerpiece, especially in an affluent house,” he said. In other words, people may not spend for the taste of the pineapple, but just to show off that they have it.

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