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 www.freshfruitportal.com 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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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.
“For the first time, we are sourcing rambutans out of Honduras this year,” says Andres Ocampo with HLB Specialties. “This allows us to extend our season by two months.” Until this year, HLB Specialties sourced its rambutans from Guatemala, a season that runs from May until November. “However, by popular demand, we have extended our pool of suppliers and purchase from Honduras between October and January, maybe into February.” Most customers prefer availability of the product for a longer time frame.
“Our supplier from Guatemala is a pioneer in the industry,” shared Ocampo. “We have a very strong partnership with our grower and supplies are consistent and reliable as the grower rotates the rambutan crop between different regions.” Production out of Honduras started two weeks ago and the country continues through December. Harvest could continue into January and February, depending on the weather. “It is still a few months away, but it looks like this year’s harvest will continue through January.”
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