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Samantha Barthel (left), retail specialist for HLB Specialties, and Melissa Hartmann de Barros, communications director, show off yellow pitaya from Ecuador at Fresh Summit 2017. Photo by Pamela Riemenschneider
The yellow dragon fruit (pitaya) from Ecuador is in the early stages of proving its appeal to the American consumer.
Since coming to the U.S. market for the first time this fall, the yellow-skinned, white-fleshed fruit has made strong early impressions, said Robert Schueller, director of public relations for Vernon, Calif.-based World Variety Produce, which markets the Melissa’s brand.
“It is not a fruit that you can find at every store, and it is coming in on a limited basis,” Schueller said.
The fruit is expensive, selling at about $8 per pound.
“We will see if America will embrace it as we start to get distribution to major metropolitan areas,”he said.
HLB Specialties also started with its first shipments of yellow pitaya from Ecuador this fall, and excitement for the fruit is high, said Homero Levy de Barros, president and CEO of HLB Specialties LLC, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
“We have been waiting for over 20 years for the ability to bring the yellow pitaya from Ecuador to the U.S.,” Levy de Barros said, noting that USDA cleared the fruit in October, just before the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit show.
“Most people don’t know this fruit, and when they taste it they find it very refreshing and very sweet,” he said.
Organics accounted for more than 5% of total food sales in the U.S. last year, surpassing $40 billion in sales, according to the Organic Trade Association. That rising demand includes tropical items, importers said, despite the challenges of growing an organic product in a hot, wet environment.
“A lot of it is grown organically, but some products have to be treated in some fashion to get it into the U.S.,” said Rick Feighery, vice president of sales of Procacci Bros. Sales Corp., Philadelphia. “We’re getting more demand for organics on mainstay items like banana, pineapple, mango, but we’re also getting increased inquiry about organic roots, too.”
HLB Specialties, Pompano Beach, Fla., has been offering organic papaya for three years, despite the difficulty of growing the product that way, director of sales Lorenz Hartmann de Barros said.
“More people want something grown without the heavy use of pesticides,” he said. “People want an alternative to that.”
Hartmann de Barros said there is still a significant market for conventional product because of the difference in price but added that, “When the price isn’t obscenely different, people will go for organic.”
“They feel better about it,” he said. “It’s grown with less harsh pesticides or none at all. It feels more natural. Consumers feel they are doing something good for themselves and the environment.”
Hartmann de Barros said because it’s a natural product, organic shoppers are more accepting about superficial defects in a product’s appearance. That, he said, means less shrink for retailers and less loss for growers.
NEW ORLEANS — The Produce Marketing Association kicked off its 68th annual Fresh Summit convention and exposition Oct. 20, here, drawing members of the fresh fruit, vegetable and floral industry from around the globe. While the final numbers were not yet available, there were indications that the event would draw a record number of attendees.
Florida-based tropical fruit importer HLB Specialties is upbeat for the prospects of yellow dragon fruit in the United States following two successful shipments to kick off Ecuador as a newly available country of origin.
In a statement, operations director Andres Ocampo told Fresh Fruit Portal the fruit was brought in via air freight to service both East and West Coast markets.
“So far we have had great reception from our customers, one of them mentioning that he had never called back as fast as he did after receiving our pitahaya (dragon fruit) samples,” Ocampo said.
“We measured brix on the fruit and we got 24, which is between two to three times as high as what you get on the red dragon fruit, which is sometimes compared to pitahaya although they bear different PLUs (price look-up code),” he said of brix, a common measurement for sweetness in the fruit sector.
“We will have the fruit available at our booth (#3653) at PMA Fresh Summit for our customers to sample an enjoy the newly available product in the USA.”
He added the season would be year-round but with lower volumes in May and June.
“We are aiming for customers who crave new flavors and are looking for a different product that carries a lot of taste,” he said.
HLB Specialties, a US papaya importer, was helpful in issuing information explaining the difference between various types of papayas, to educate the public and to avoid a disaster to the industry. There are three types of papaya commonly available, they explained:
Maradol papayas are large, weighing about three pounds. They have a yellow skin when ripe. Formosa, or Tainung papayas, are similar to Maradol in size and weight, but are greener and ready to eat before they fully turn yellow. The Brazilian Golden papaya weighs only a pound.
While this recall of papayas is concerning, it needs to be kept in perspective. This outbreak is limited to fruit from a specific farm in Mexico. Papaya is a healthy fruit, packed with vitamins and antioxidants.
Continue to enjoy them, but read the labels for information on their origin.
In the grand scheme of things, this outbreak is a relatively small concern. And this outbreak is just one more example of why this administration’s proposals to gut the FDA and CDC are endangering us all. We need public health and oversight.
HLB Specialties, a US papaya importer, released a statement Friday that emphasized the differences between brands, varieties and countries of origin.
In light of the recent Salmonella outbreak associated with Maradol papayas from Mexico, one of the largest papaya importers into the United States is cautioning retailers and the media to make a clear distinction between the different papaya brands, growers, varieties and countries of origin.
The outbreak is limited to one specific grower in the south of Mexico, Carica de Campeche, and the brands it distributes, stressed HLB Specialties, an importer based in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Papayas from Guatemala, Brazil, Formosa papaya and other Maradol papaya brands from Mexico are not linked to the outbreak and are safe for consumption.
HLB hopes to educate shoppers on the different types of papaya and to dispel any confusion that may have arisen from the outbreak.
Melissa Hartmann de Barros, director of communications at HLB Specialties, said, “The safety of the consumers is our highest priority. We share their concern, but we also want to provide as much information as possible, so that shoppers can make an educated decision when buying papayas.”
Hartmann de Barros added, “We are seeing a lot of misinformation circulating, including pictures of the wrong papaya variety being used when referring to the Maradol papaya linked to the Salmonella outbreak.”
Maradol papayas are the large kind, weighing approximately three pounds and usually have a fully yellow skin when ripe. Formosa papayas, also known as Tainung papayas, are also large and similar to Maradol in size and weight, but they are greener and ready to eat when only half yellow. The small Brazilian Golden papaya variety weighs around one pound, is very sweet and ideal for personal use.
Papayas are considered one of the healthiest fruits in the world due to their high vitamin content, especially vitamin C, said Hartmann de Barros.