South Asian mango shipments boom in Edmonton grocery stores

Over the past two decades, Edmonton has welcomed hundreds of South Asians and with it, comes their love for the sweet, juicy mangoes grown back home.

'People want to be notified when the mango arrives,' says one store owner

Vinny Bindra, the manager of Spice Centre, is happy when he smells and tastes the mangoes he ships to his grocery store from India and Pakistan. ( John Shypitka/CBC)

Vinny Bindra vaguely remembers his grandparents coming home carrying big boxes of sweet, juicy mangoes during India's hot summers.

He was only 10 years old when his family immigrated to Alberta but the memory of eating the seasonal treat is relived every year when he ships in hundreds of boxes of mangoes to his grocery store Spice Centre on 34th Avenue near 91st Street.

Over the past six years, Bindra has seen a boom in seasonal mango shipments — which the store carries from April to mid-July— from India and Pakistan because of the growing South Asian community living in Edmonton.

When Spice Centre opened 30 years ago, the store would sell "50 to 60 cases [of mangoes] a week," Bindra said.

"But now, we go through about 100 cases a day."

Bindra said his store sells up to 10,000 individual mangoes per week.

High demand

The high demand for seasonal mangoes is not uncommon for regions in Canada with large South Asian populations.

Between 2006 and 2016, Edmonton's South Asian population grew by almost 50,000 people to 86,550, according to Statistics Canada.

That means there are more people living in Edmonton who, like Bindra, are reminded of their childhoods back home when they see, smell, and taste the sweet-as-honey seasonal mangoes at local grocery stores.

This Kesar mango is one of several varieties sold at Spice Centre. (John Shypitka/CBC)

Bindra said demand is so high he has a Whatsapp group with several of his customers.

"People want to be notified when the mango arrives, and the moment I send it out, you just start seeing them coming in," he said.

"Everybody has a mango tree back home in their backyard or in the front yard. They tell me their story. It's just the season, the excitement, and obviously on top of all of that, the flavour is just absolutely amazing." 

Rajeendra Jayasakara is one of Bindra's customers who visits the Indian grocery store when she hears about a new shipment. 

She grew up picking mangoes off trees in Sri Lanka. She now shares the sweet taste and memories with her daughter in Edmonton.

"My daughter likes fresh juice and even I like it," she said.

Rajeendra Jayasakara, a regular customer at Spice Centre, has great memories of eating mangoes in Sri Lanka and now shares that experience with her daughter. (John Shypitka/CBC)

Mango varieties

Bindra sells mangoes from four countries at his store and each variety has its own unique taste.

"The seeds are different, the climate is different," Bindra said.

Unlike Mexican mangoes that are sweet, but grow year-round, the particularly sweet Pakistani and Indian mangoes are grown during the dry and hot season, according to Bindra. 

Attention to detail is key to a sweet case of mangoes. 

"If water even touches the mangoes during this period, they can easily go bad," Bindra said.

During the season, he is in direct contact with brokers from India and Pakistan who connect him with local farmers.

Before they are flown to warehouses in Edmonton, warehouse staff send Bindra videos and pictures of the mangoes they are sorting to make sure he's getting the best of the best.

I can't believe nature produces this sweetness.- Vinny Bindra, Spice Centre store owner

"They bring them here and it's gotten to the point where we have such good communication with these guys," the store owner said.

Prices can range from $14 to $40 for a case of five to 12 mangoes. Customers will pay the high price for popular mangoes such as the Alphonso from Maharashtra, India, the Chaunsa from Pakistan, or the sweet Kesar mango from Gujarat, India because they are worth it, Bindra said.

Located on a strip of other Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi grocery stores and businesses, Spice Centre doesn't face much competition because the market is so huge and everyone is doing well, Bindra added.

"I can't believe nature produces this sweetness," Bindra said.

His favourite technique for eating a mango is bending over the sink at his home.

"Because they're so juicy, they just kind of get juice drips on your hand and you don't want to be busy wiping the juice off. You just want to focus on the mango."