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.
Tropical and exotic fruits have become increasingly popular in the US market in recent years and products which were previously only destined for ethnic markets are now also sold in larger retail chains. One of these products is rambutan, which is currently being sourced from Guatemala and Mexico.
Andrés Ocampo of HLB Specialties, located in Florida, says: “We are currently sourcing our rambutan from Guatemala. The season started late April, early May in the Pacific region, which is just across the border from Mexico. Then, as the season progresses, it moves over to the Atlantic area of the country. We’ll source from Guatemala through November, and we start Honduras in September so we overlap with both countries for 2 months.”
Rambutan logistics remain steady; papaya from Brazil is challenged
Rambutan is brought into the United States by air freight, to ensure optimal quality and freshness. Fortunately, even though the amount of overall air traffic has been drastically reduced due to the pandemic, the air freight out of Guatemala hasn’t been affected much. Ocampo explains: “The air freight in Guatemala was almost exclusively done through freighters, so there hasn’t been much change there. Though the prices did increase a bit, it was nothing compared with other countries. It’s been quite stable and manageable.”
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.”
Published by: Produce Retailer
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.
Published by: Reuters
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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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