US$400 for one pineapple: The rise of luxury fruit

New York –

Imagine you have US$400 to spend on a luxury dining experience. You might treat yourself to a tin of premium caviar, a bottle or two of very fine wine or a multi-course meal at a high-end restaurant.

Or you could blow it all on a single pineapple.

The Rubyglow pineapple –— bred for its distinctive red exterior and its sweetness — costs $395.99 at Melissa’s Produce, a California-based seller of specialty fruit and veggies. It took Del Monte, a wholesaler which sells a variety of produce but specializes in pineapple, a decade and a half to develop the red-hued fruit. A limited crop was first available in China early this year. Recently, Del Monte decided to see how the item would fare in the United States, and Melissa’s starting selling it at the astronomical price.

It may not seem like the best time to market a (very, very) expensive piece of fruit in America. It wasn’t that long ago that soaring grocery prices made headline news, stressing out consumers and stretching their budgets thin. Still nervous about inflation and worried about unemployment, many Americans are now spending less.

And yet, there’s interest in premium fruit — enough to convince Del Monte to bring the Rubyglow, which is grown in Costa Rica, stateside.

“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.

Americans have become interested in particular for new fruit varieties in recent years, paying a premium for Honeycrisp apples, Cotton Candy grapes, Sumo Citrus and vertically-grown Japanese strawberries. Now, they are hungry for different types of fruit, and are ready to shell out for exciting new options.

But a $400 pineapple? That’s a bit rich.

The rise of premium fruit

When the Honeycrisp was introduced over 30 years ago, there weren’t many apple options in the supermarket.

Red Delicious, Golden Delicious and, in some areas, McIntosh apples were standard fare, recalled Jim Luby, a professor in the horticultural science department at the University of Minnesota. But that was about it. “If you didn’t go out to a local orchard, you didn’t have that many choices.”

People were hungry for more, and Honeycrisp fit the bill — sweet, crisp and novel.

“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 a costly affair. Researchers have to breed and cross-breed, wait out the growing cycle, and start over if the fruit disappoints. Finding something that is both delicious and resilient enough to be commercially successful takes time, and a lot of painstaking work. Then plant scientists have to convince growers to make an investment in an unproven fruit, devoting resources that could be used for old favorites.

But the Honeycrisp helped show that the risk can be justified.

Since the apple’s success, variety in the produce section has increased. Over roughly the past decade, per capita availability — a good proxy for consumption — of higher-priced fruit, like berries, mango and avocados, has increased, according to Rabobank, which drew from USDA data. In that time, availability of cheaper fruit like apples and bananas has essentially stayed flat.

Some specialty fruits have even developed cult followings: those Cotton Candy grapes, named for their sweetness, hit the scene in 2011 and quickly became popular. Sumo Citrus, a hybrid of navel oranges, pomelos and mandarins, was more of a slow burn, but has exploded in recent years.

In these cases, consumers have been willing to spend a little bit more. But those items are cheap in comparison to Oishii’s specialty strawberries, grown indoors in a climate-controlled vertical farm. When its berries first became available to the public in 2018, Oishii charged US$50 for a pack of eight.

Oishii is selling more than just berries: It’s selling a luxury item. The berries are packed in flat boxes that spotlight each individual fruit, more like a package for hand-crafted chocolate truffles than the mould-hiding plastic containers you see at a supermarket. Each fruit is supposed to 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 not a sustainable price. Today, after rounds of funding and improved technology, Oishii’s products are more readily available, and much cheaper. You can get Oishii berries at mainstream grocers for around US$10-$14 per pack.

Del Monte makes its move

Del Monte’s researchers have been coming up with different types of pineapples for years, designing proprietary fruit and often optimizing for taste. In 2020 the company launched its own pretty, giftable fruit — the Pinkglow pineapple, which has pink flesh and comes in its own special box.

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. It’s also perfect for Instagram and TikTok, where food influencers with large followings cut open the fruit, marveled at its color and shared their reviews (the verdict: very sweet).

At first, the Pinkglow was sold for about $50. Today, you can get one for far less, online between around US$8 and $29 — bargain prices, relatively, but still steep for a pineapple.

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, which sells everything from truffles to mangosteens to kumquats, describes the Rubyglow on its website as a “rare gem” and “the pinnacle of luxury fruit,” adding that “for the gourmand, it’s an unforgettable gift.”

The pitch has had limited success. Melissa’s started with 50 pineapples, according to Robert Schueller, director of public relations at Melissa’s Produce. So far, it has sold about half that number over the course of a month, including to restaurants in Las Vegas and Southern California, which he said are using the fruit in displays.

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

To try to create more buzz, Melissa’s reached out to a handful of food influencers, including Bo Corley, a chef who shares recipes and other food tidbits 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, he said, it wasn’t worth $400.

Corley can see people spending to get their hands on the Rubyglow, if not for the taste of the pineapple itself then for the wow factor of the brilliant exterior.

“I think charcuterie boards this Christmas, Thanksgiving — you’re going to see this Rubyglow as a centrepiece, 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.

The secret Italian lakes that most tourists don’t know about

Tourists regularly flock to Italy to enjoy its beaches and islands, they admire its historical cities – and of course they enjoy the food. Recently, they’ve been coming in far greater numbers, leaving some destinations overwhelmed. However, there are still places to visit that offer an escape from the crowds as well as stunning scenery. We’re talking lakes. But not Lake Garda, the huge body of water that nestles up against the Alps, busy with resort towns. And not celebrity-favourite Lake Como. Italy has dozens of secret smaller lakes that boast superb scenery, unknown to mass tourism, where locals get together on day trips and enjoy picnics. These are some of the best: Lake Turano One of the best-kept secrets of Lazio, the region around Rome, is Lake Turano. Visitors to Rome, many who wilt during the heat of the Eternal City’s fiery summers, have no idea that nearby lies an enchanted place that has the views, the history, the food and a welcome breath of fresh air. It wasn’t meant to be a vacation spot at first. When Benito Mussolini, Italy’s former dictator, ordered the construction of this artificial lake in the 1930s to supply water to nearby power plants, the last thing he expected was for it to turn into a weekend detox retreat for people longing for open spaces. Lago del Turano has an ideal location, close to the capital but far from the noise and chaos. Set in the wild countryside north of Rome and surrounded by hills, the location was once home to the Fallisci, an ancient tribe, before they were wiped out by ancient Romans. Free-roaming cows and sheep greet visitors along a road cut through a deep forest that leads to the lake. Once out of the woods, the mesmerizing scenery of the lake forces drivers to stop at a belvedere with benches to take in the view. The lake brims with giant carp that draw anglers from across Italy for fishing contests. Two picturesque towns of stone dwellings with panoramic balconies overlook lake Turano – the clifftop medieval Castel di Tora and the even more ancient Colle di Tora, sit right on the shoreline. There’s also a tall peninsula jutting out into the lake topped with an old monastery. The water is crystal clear and the pebble shores are dotted with beach facilities where one can rent dinghies, canoes, boats, or simply suntan and sunbathe in tropical-like waters. Just one metal bridge runs over the water connecting Castel di Tora to the main road. In winter, most holiday homes are shut and the narrow alleys are largely deserted apart from cats. In spring, locals spruce up their outdoor patios and socialize in the little piazza. Fresh fish is served at restaurant L’Angoletto, a stone cottage with an open panoramic veranda over the lake. Hotel Turano has cozy, no-frills lakefront rooms and a restaurant serving local specialties. Aerial view of the hilltop village of Castel di Tora on the lake of Turano in July 2021. (Davide Seddio/Moment Unreleased RF/Getty Images via CNN Newsource) Lake Scanno The most intriguing of all lakes however is Lake Scanno, the “pearl” of eastern Italy’s Abruzzo region, which is as beautiful as it is mysterious. Over the years, tales and myths have been spun about this deep green, heart-shaped lake that persist today, attracting scientists and paranormal investigators who try to find explanations to weird happenings that have long baffled locals. Surrounded by the Apennines mountain range, it is said this natural lake, named after the overhanging village above, has magical powers. Locals believe the lake is alive and some have previously reported unusual phenomena such as shattering light bulbs, exploding TV screens and ceiling lamps dancing as if a small earthquake had just struck. They also tell stories of other unexplained events: sudden water level drops, divers compasses going berserk and dead fish and even long-lost World War II weapons floating on the surface. There’s said to be a mysterious unidentified object buried in the lake bed. Lake Scanno’s unusual atmosphere is almost palpable. In the heady days of summer, the sense of mystery hangs in the warm air. Despite its green colour, caused by harmless algae in the water, bathing is permitted here as is windsurfing. The lake is also ripe for exploration, with a “Path of the Heart” trail that circles its banks and takes in a church, said to be a site of miracles, and an old hermitage. Along the shores there is a beach kitted out for summer bathing. There are mountain bike trails and it’s possible to rent rickshaws, rowing boats and canoes. Other facilities include a children’s playground, and a parking area for campers. Lakefront Agriturismo Miralago is a farm and B&B, where horses roam free. It serves traditional dishes like tagliatelle with wild boar. The village of Scanno, a puzzle of lavish bourgeois mansions and humble shepherd dwellings decorated with bright flower pots, is a must-see. Lake Scanno is known for its unusual phenomena. (Davide Pischettola/NurPhoto/Getty Images via CNN Newsource) Lake Iseo Located just a few miles from Milan, this picturesque spot formed from pure Alpine glacial meltwater is also a source of great sparkling wines, made from grapes grown on its banks. The lake has three islands. The two smallest are private while the largest, Montisola, a huge mountain sticking out of the deep blue water, is heaven for nature lovers. Here, visitors can rent canoes or fishing boats for a private tour of the lake. Another shoreside attraction is the brightly colored dwellings built for fishermen that stand on stilts over the edge of the water, among them restaurant Locanda al Lago, known for its fish dishes and the sardines hung on the dock to dry. Hotel Sensole is a lakefront Baroque palazzo that contains a gourmet bistro. Lake Nemi This small lake just beyond the southwestern suburbs of Rome is where locals flock for Sunday lunches with traditional porchetta pork sandwiches and heady red wines. They’re treading in the footsteps of their ancient predecessors. Back in the days of Roman empire, senators and wealthy families came here to relax in lavish retreats around Nemi’s shores, where succulent strawberries grow amid archeological ruins and dense forests. Sited among the Colli Albani hills on the edge of Rome, the lake is of volcanic origin and sits in an extinct crater. It’s accessible by foot along an old route that winds down from a village on the slopes above it that shares the lake’s name. Lakefront B&B Lago di Nemi is an old restyled farmhouse that rents out bicycles, while restaurant La Fiocina on the shore, serves fish specialties like fried whitebait with green peppers. Lake Orta Orta is one of the secret gems of Italy’s Piedmont region, usually overlooked by visitors who flock to the more touristy Lago Maggiore nearby. Created by a melting Alpine glacier, it’s a quiet idyll with picturesque villages, chapels and medieval towers along its banks. In the middle of Orta, the monastery island of San Giulio rises from the water. Alongside myriad biking and horseback riding trails, it’s possible to water-ski and even scuba dive in the translucent waters that lie off its pebble beaches. L’Approdo is a four-star lakefront hotel restaurant with a panoramic terrace and pool. Lake Trasimeno This shallow lake formed millennia ago by tectonic movements of the Earth’s crust is located in a less touristy part of Umbria, where just locals have holiday homes and shops in the overhanging village of Castiglione don’t sell the usual souvenirs. Trasimeno’s banks are dotted with medieval hamlets and wooden bridges that cross over the water that are great for birdwatching and sunset drinks. Beaches here rent out windsurf and kite equipment. B&B Dolce Dormire has cozy rooms in the ancient district of Castiglione, while La Casa di Campagna is a rural farm and tavern serving local specialties. Lake Trasimeno is located in a less-touristed part of Umbria region. (Christiana Stawski/Moment RF/Getty Images via CNN Newsource)

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What is the focal point in your room?  What is your best tip to find harmony and balance through your home?