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“Every week, we have to adapt to new carriers and transit routes”

Nowadays, consumers are used to being able to buy many fruit and vegetable items all year long. Although in-season much is grown domestically, some fruit and vegetable varieties are almost exclusively imported. Papayas are one of these items and 97.7 percent of consumption is grown outside the US, according to the USDA. What is the impact of the coronavirus on availability of tropical and exotic items that are mostly sourced in South America?

Papayas from Brazil.

Air freighters from Brazil
“Our large papaya imports from Guatemala and Mexico are not significantly affected as they arrive by ocean and truck,” says Andres Ocampo with HLB Specialties. However, for papayas from Brazil it’s a different story. “Until last week, we were bringing them in by air.” The company had been able to fly its products on – sometimes empty – passenger planes. “With the number of passenger flights continuing to be reduced, HLB Specialties is now being forced to switch to freighters. The cargo airline HLB has been using flies from the State of Sao Paulo in Brazil to Miami on a regular basis, about five times a week. “We’ve been using this alternative to maintain fruit incoming, albeit at a higher cost,” said Ocampo. “We have also explored charter flights from Brazil that exclusively fly our product, but the distance (fuel needs) makes it too expensive to absorb for the products we handle. Switching to ocean freight from Brazil is not feasible due to transit times.”

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Suppliers detail COVID-19 effect on business, outlook— Part 2

Published by: Produce Retailer

Continued …

Specialties

Andres Ocampo, CEO of HLB Specialties, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said that some offshore suppliers of specialty produce have been limited by the lack of freight in passenger planes.

“For markets serviced only by passenger planes, it’s been a big blow,” Ocampo said. “For markets serviced by air freighters (those are still for the most part operational), it has been a lesser blow.”

Ocampo said some airlines have already officially canceled their flights for at least two more months, while others did so for April only.

“I expect that to keep changing and probably only start to get some normality in June, but a full service like pre-COVID 19, maybe only in the last quarter or into 2021,” Ocampo said.

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Coronavirus upends global food supply chains in latest economic shock

Published by: Reuters

LAND, SEA & AIR

In addition to the trucking problems, a sharp decline in air traffic has cut deeply into capacity to move fresh produce long distances.Slideshow (13 Images)

Andres Ocampo, chief executive of HLB Specialties LLC, a fruit importer based in Miami, Florida, relied on commercial flights to shift papayas and other produce from Brazil. Now he is buying more from Mexico and Guatemala, where goods can still be shipped by trucks.

Ocampo says volumes of the company’s imports from Brazil have dropped by 80%.

“In Europe, it’s even worse, because they don’t have a Mexico-like source for papayas,” he said.

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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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Lorenz Hartmann de Barros joins HLB Tropical Food

The German tropical fruit importer and distributor HLB Tropical Food GmbH is announcing some major personnel changes in its Kelsterbach headquarters. A few months ago, Mr. Lorenz Hartmann de Barros has joined the company as co-managing director. He brings almost 20 years of experience in the family business, and a lifelong enthusiasm for exotic fruits and vegetables. The company also proudly announces its 30-year anniversary this year.

In July Mr. Hartmann de Barros emigrated with his family from the United States, where he was Director of Sales at HLB Tropical Food’s sister company, HLB Specialties in Florida. “Our team is very happy to welcome him, and we look forward to his rich experience and passion about papayas, mangoes, and the other tropical items we carry,” notes Mrs. Susanne Raiß, managing director at HLB Tropical Food GmbH. “I’m excited to join the German HLB team and I appreciate the opportunity to bring my expertise of working with large retailers and wholesalers in the US and Canada,” adds Mr. Hartmann de Barros.

Mr. Hartmann de Barros’ addition is very fitting, as the company celebrates 30 years in business. Founded by his father, Homero Levy de Barros, the company first focused on fresh fish imports from their native Brazil. In 1992 the company shifted the business to importing air-flown papayas and helped transform the fruit from a niche item to a staple in retail stores. Since then, the company has distinguished itself with other items, most recently with being the only grower-packer-shipper to import organic Formosa papayas year-round to the North American market.

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Rambutan season gearing up for HLB Specialties

HLB Specialties, an importer and distributor of tropical fruits, based in Fort Lauderdale, FL, is getting ready for its first rambutan shipment of the season, which will start in the second week of May.

The company will first receive Guatemalan rambutan in its Miami warehouse and soon after in its Los Angeles distribution center. HLB Specialties has been supplying U.S. retailers and wholesalers with its unique 12-ounce clamshell and five-pound bulk box for the past four years, expanding into Canada this year.

While rambutan is a tropical fruit originally from Southeast Asia, HLB’s rambutans are grown in Guatemala and Honduras.

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See also this article

See also this article

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Organic papaya program opened the doors to a full organic line

“We are in the third year of our organic papaya program,” says Andres Ocampo with HLB Specialties. The program was started in response to increased consumer demand for organic papayas. “It was our first organic product and we definitely had some challenges to overcome in the beginning,” Ocampo shared. The main obstacle was to solve a gap in supply. “From the beginning, our goal was to supply consistent volumes on a year-round basis, but that wasn’t easy at first. We’ve overcome that difficulty and now have year-round production.” 
 
HLB Specialties sources its organic Formosa papayas from Michoacán in Mexico. Although supplies are consistent throughout the year, production slightly dips in September and October.
 
 
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Yellow dragon fruit looks for market

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.

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