Monthly Archives: January 2020

Melissa Hartmann de Barros on HLB’s 30th anniversary and the company’s expansion

2019 marks the 30th anniversary of HLB, a family-owned company who started off importing fish into Germany. Since its founding, the company has grown to two independent branches – HLB Tropical Food in Germany, and HLB Specialties in Florida – and helped open up and develop numerous markets for exotic fruits. The company began their journey into the tropical food world in 1992 when they introduced airfreighted, tree-ripened papayas into Europe. Today, the company is still family owned and works with a variety of exotic fruits.

Building the company on papaya imports
HLB Tropical Food was founded in 1989 just outside of Frankfurt when Homero Levy de Barros moved from Brazil to Germany. At the outset, the company imported fish, but in 1992 they shifted their focus to importing tropical fruits. Melissa Hartmann de Barros is the company’s director of communications, and Levy de Barros’ daughter – the company remains family-run today. She explains: “In the 1990s HLB was able to transition the papaya from being a niche item to becoming a staple in the market by changing the way in which it was imported and marketed. Specifically, we began importing it by air with more maturation which allowed for better flavors and aesthetics.”

Still family owned
Thirty years after the founding of the company, it is still led by the family. Hartmann de Barros is the daughter of Homero Levy de Barros, the company’s founder, and works as the Director of Communications for the HLB Specialties branch. She shares: “In July, Homero’s son, my brother, Lorenz Hartmann de Barros moved to Germany with his family and became the CEO of HLB Tropical Food. For the HLB Specialties branch, Homero has taken a step back and his son-in-law, my husband, Andres Ocampo has taken the role of CEO.”

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Melissa Hartmann de Barros of HLB: “We made the papaya a staple item in European stores”

Though still seen as an exotic fruit by many, papayas can be found at almost any major retailer in Europe and North America. HLB Tropical Food, which was formed in Germany by Homero Levy de Barros, was a major player in the development of the papaya market in Europe. When Levy de Barros moved to the US with his family to set up a new independent branch of the company which was called HLB Specialties, they also helped grow and develop the North American market.

Air freight allowed for more maturation, more flavor
HLB was able to transition the papaya from being a niche item to becoming a staple in the market by changing the way in which it was imported and marketed.

“In the early 1990s in Europe, the papayas on the market were mostly brought in mostly by ocean freight. The deliveries were inconsistent in their arrivals and their volumes and the fruit was picked much too early to ensure it didn’t go bad during its 2-week transit. The food that arrived in Europe was still green and didn’t have much hope of further maturation or developing its flavors,” Hartmann de Barros explains.

When HLB began importing the fruit, all of this changed. “We work with the Caliman brand of papayas, which are tree ripened and brought in by air freight. This means that the papayas had a transit time of only two days instead of two weeks and the growers were able to keep the fruit on the tree much longer before harvesting and sending them. We changed the way the fruit was introduced to consumers by displaying fruit that had 50% color on it rather than fully green fruit. This made the fruit much more attractive to the customers because they buy with their eyes.”

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Plan for papayas — Supply, handling and merchandising tips

Suppliers expect plenty of papayas these first few months of the new year.

“Lots of volume, promotional opportunities available, mostly on the large formosa papaya from Guatemala and Mexico,” said Melissa Hartmann de Barros, director of communications for Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based HLB Specialties. “Golden papaya from Brazil is going well, but volumes are reaching capacity due to program commitments.

“The first half of the year are best for promotions, when weather conditions are stable and volumes are plentiful,” Hartmann de Barros said.

Peter Leifermann, vice president of sales and marketing for Homestead, Fla.-based Brooks Tropicals, also reported strong volume for the months ahead.

“We expect a return to very good availability and high quality as the fruit harvested in the first quarter of the year is among the year’s best,” Leifermann said. “Both our large Caribbean red papaya and the smaller Brooks solo papaya should be in very good form.

“Demand is typically high during the first half of the year, and summer promotions are ideal,” Leifermann said.

Denise Gomez, marketing assistant for Miami-based J&C Tropicals, also expected plenty of availability.

“The only period we typically have lighter volumes are in October/November,” Gomez said.

Suppliers are united on a key handling detail for the fruit — don’t store papayas below 45 degrees.

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North America HLB Specialties LLC

3327 NW 55th Street
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33309

T +1 (954) 475 8808
F +1 (954) 475 8896

Europe HLB Tropical Food GmbH

Am Weiher 2a
65451 Kelsterbach
Germany / Bio-Zertifikat Nr.: DE-ÖKO-044

T +49-6107-98781 0
F +49-6107-98781 14