The papaya is growing in popularity, continuing to expand beyond its traditional Hispanic base.
“Papaya are in the top 15 consumed fruits in the world – ahead by metric tons of everybody’s darling, the avocado,” said Peter Leifermann, vice president sales and marketing for Homestead, Fla.-based Brooks Tropicals.
While the tainung – also known as the Formosa or large red – has become the most common papaya variety, Leifermann said the personal-sized solo variety is gaining ground among “individualistic” millennials and people hosting smaller gatherings during the pandemic.
There’s no doubt Hispanics remain the key buyer, however. Melissa Hartmann de Barros, director of communications at Pompano Beach, Fla.-based HLB Specialties, said California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Illinois – all with significant Hispanic populations – account for nearly 70% of papaya sales in the U.S.
Global production is also increasing, she said, driven by consumer demand and by better post-harvest techniques and investment in new varieties.
Robert Schueller, director of public relations for Los Angeles-based World Variety Produce, which markets the Melissa’s brand, said sales of the large red papaya have grown 15% in the past year. The newest big player arrived in mid-2020 from Jamaica. “It’s already proven to be a great seller with a big jump in sales for the category,” Schueller said.
Of course, if you haven’t grown up eating papaya, buying a two- to four-pound specimen can be intimidating. Consumers unfamiliar with the product wonder how do they know when it’s ripe and ready to eat and what to do with all that fruit.
De Barros said retailers can help shoppers choose the perfect papaya through point-of-sale materials. HLB does its part by providing a ripening scale on its PLU sticker.
She said it’s also useful to know if you’re buying a maradol, the large Mexican papaya with skin that turns fully yellow when ripe, or a tainung papaya, which is grown in countries including Guatemala, Mexico and Brazil and is ready to eat when its greener skin is only half yellow.
For those not ready to commit to a family-sized papaya, HLB’s golden papaya from Brazil offers a smaller size of the tropical taste sensation in mid-winter. It weighs in at about one pound and is generally sweeter than its large cousin.
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