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U.S.: Rambutans “becoming more mainstream”, says HLB Specialties exec

Florida-based tropical fruit distributor HLB Specialties will continue to roll out new packaging and promotional options for rambutans as the category moves away from its “ethnic market” niche.

Speaking with during the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) Fresh Summit in Orlando this month, operations director Andres Ocampo said the company’s Guatemalan partner was increasing plantings to keep up with growing demand.

“We started about five years ago with rambutans from Guatemala – at the time we tried to bring a different perspective to the business which had traditionally been the Asian [community] market,” Ocampo said.

“We tried different ways of packaging the fruit so we started working with clamshells, and through the years we have been refining which clamshells are best for which market.”

“We started with one-pound clamshells, we tried clamshells with five fruits, and we recently decided to fine-tune what is the weight that allows us to get a price point that is still affordable for most consumers but gives enough fruit to make it worth it.”

This led to a 12oz pack with roughly 12 fruits inside which has been very successful, according to Ocampo.

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That hairy red fruit came from …

The Place: Exotic lychee-like fruit rambutan, sheathed in a hairy red shell, is available at Wal-Mart, Whole Foods and Fresh Market imported from Guatemala and Honduras by HLB Specialties.

The History: HLB was founded by the Barros family, who emigrated from Brazil to Germany in 1989 to start a fruit-importing company bringing papayas to Europe. They moved to South Florida in 1998 to establish their company here and now also distribute mangoes, avocados, limes, physalis (golden berries) and rambutan flown in daily just after they are harvested. They focus on fruits from tropical regions in Colombia, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. In the 19th century, the Dutch brought rambutan from their colony in Indonesia to their Surinam colony in South America, where it spread throughout the continent and to Central America. The fruit is in season May to January and available now.

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Rambutan, the new spooky fruit

Shoppers on the East Coast and in the Midwest are discovering a new fruit that is currently being promoted throughout over 2,000 stores in 16 states. It is called rambutan and it’s not only tasty, but it also has a very unusual appearance that is especially eye-catching for kids and adults alike. It is being called the “new spooky fruit” for Halloween parties.

Rambutan is a tropical fruit, similar to lychee, and originally from Southeast Asia. It is round and about 1 ½ inches in diameter and has a large nutty seed in its core. The pulp is slightly translucent white, sweet and mildly acidic. Fresh rambutan has a bright red leathery exterior with soft red spikes, which can also be light green. The seed may be cooked and eaten. In Vietnam, where the fruit is extremely popular, it is nicknamed “messy hair” due to the pliable spines.


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Michael Napolitano of HLB has produce running through his veins

At the ripe old age of 13, Michael Napolitano got his start in the produce industry by working under the supervision of his grandfather, who owned Samuel S. Napolitano Produce in Englewood, NJ.

During his senior year of high school, Napolitano’s grandfather suffered a stroke and was no longer able to operate the business, leaving him with no other choice but to take on a much larger leadership role, often times running the company as a one-man (or one-kid) show.

“It was tough,” recalled the now 28-year-old Napolitano. “I worked every day after school, and every Saturday and Sunday. It was a foodservice company, so I would go to the Hunts Point Terminal Market and pick up produce and take orders over the phone and would make deliveries and do inventory and divide orders.”

By the time high school graduation rolled around, it was time for the business to take a back seat so Michael could pursue a degree at Manhattan College, where he double majored in business finance and global business — both of which come in handy today in his role as a salesperson for Pompano Beach, FL-based HLB Specialties, which he joined in November 2015.


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HLB Specialties sees great potential for organic papaya category

HLB Specialties, a distributor of tropical and specialty produce that bills itself as a papaya specialist, added an organic option to its line of papayas about a year ago, and so far the results have been positive.

“More people are discovering the health benefits of papayas, and being able to offer an organic option is a bonus,” said Lorenz Hartmann de Barros, director of sales for Pompano Beach, FL-based HLB Specialties. “We want to grow the organic category, and retailers who don╒t take advantage of carrying organic papayas are missing a big opportunity.”

Both club stores and retailers are distributing the organic papayas and have been supportive of HLB’s efforts to expand the organic papaya line. These stores have seen their overall papaya sales increase as a result of carrying an organic option.

Hartmann de Barros said HLB has plenty of volume on all sizes of organic papayas, which it offers in 22- and 32-pound boxes.

“We use the smaller box for the smaller fruit and the larger box for the larger fruit,” he said.

He said offering different sizes of fruit is helpful to appeal to a range of customers.

“A large papaya can be four or five pounds, and while that might be suitable for a family of four or more people, it would be too much for an individual or a small family,” he said. “A small piece of fruit is only one to two pounds, so that is better for a small family.”

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HLB warns of papaya shortfall


HLB warns of papaya shortfall

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See also:

Fresh Fruit

Fresh Plaza

The Packer

Perishable News


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Will goldenberries transform from niche to mainstream?


2015 marks the first year of goldenberries being imported to the US without the necessary cold treatment. Close to Colombia’s capital Bogotá, at 2,200 meters elevation, the Colombian government together with Aphis have declared a fruit-fly free area that is very suitable for growing goldenberries.

Year-round supplies
“We source our goldenberries exclusively from this area in Colombia,” says Andres Ocampo with HLB Specialties. The growing area is very close to the equator with excellent circumstances for year-round supplies. HLB partners with one of the largest growers in that area, allowing for steady supplies throughout the year.
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Steady papaya supplies from Mexico, Central American volumes increase


Hurricane Patricia did less damage to Mexican agriculture than what was initially predicted, and supplies of many Mexican imports, papaya included, have remained steady in its wake. With attractive prices luring more Guatemalan growers into the market, Central American imports have been increasing over the years.

“Supplies from Mexico have been steady and volumes from Guatemala are up this year,” noted Andres Ocampo of HLB Specialties. “As the market for papaya has grown over the last 10 years, the number of growers who export year-round there has grown from four or five to about 10.” Ocampo estimates that Mexico, Guatemala and Belize account for about 85 to 90 percent of papaya imports in the United States, and with Mexican supplies holding steady, the uptick in Guatemalan shipments has made for larger volumes in the United States.

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Papaya leaders consider forming marketing order


ATLANTA — Papaya industry leaders got together at the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit 2015 to discuss forming a marketing order.

A marketing order — along with a national board to implement it — would increase sales and consumption of papayas through efforts to educate consumers, receivers and retailers about handling and usage best practices, said Homero Levy de Barros, president and CEO of Pompano, Fla.-based HLB Specialities.

At the retail level, edible fruit is too often improperly rejected because of a lack of knowledge about color or other factors, he said.

Levy de Barros said he sees generally strong support for a marketing order.

“All the major importers from Brazil, Mexico and Guatemala were positively in favor,” he said. “The growers/distributors from Belize and Jamaica said they were not convinced yet.”

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Papaya industry meets to discuss formation of board



ATLANTA — Members of the international papaya industry met Oct. 23 during the Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit convention, here, to discuss the formation of a national board.

Homero Levy de Barros, owner of HLB Specialties in Pompano Beach, FL, a major papaya grower-shipper-importer, is spearheading the initiative and invited William Watson, the former head of the National Mango Association and National Watermelon Promotion Board, to discuss the process of getting a board up and running.

Levy de Barros opened by thanking the more than 30 members from the main papaya-producing regions in the United States, Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean for their attendance at the meeting, which he said “is about 17 years late.”

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