Category Archives: News

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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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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Importers see demand grow for organic tropicals

Photo courtesy Freska Produce International

Organics accounted for more than 5% of total food sales in the U.S. last year, surpassing $40 billion in sales, according to the Organic Trade Association. That rising demand includes tropical items, importers said, despite the challenges of growing an organic product in a hot, wet environment.

“A lot of it is grown organically, but some products have to be treated in some fashion to get it into the U.S.,” said Rick Feighery, vice president of sales of Procacci Bros. Sales Corp., Philadelphia. “We’re getting more demand for organics on mainstay items like banana, pineapple, mango, but we’re also getting increased inquiry about organic roots, too.”

HLB Specialties, Pompano Beach, Fla., has been offering organic papaya for three years, despite the difficulty of growing the product that way, director of sales Lorenz Hartmann de Barros said.

“More people want something grown without the heavy use of pesticides,” he said. “People want an alternative to that.”

Hartmann de Barros said there is still a significant market for conventional product because of the difference in price but added that, “When the price isn’t obscenely different, people will go for organic.”

“They feel better about it,” he said. “It’s grown with less harsh pesticides or none at all. It feels more natural. Consumers feel they are doing something good for themselves and the environment.”

Hartmann de Barros said because it’s a natural product, organic shoppers are more accepting about superficial defects in a product’s appearance. That, he said, means less shrink for retailers and less loss for growers.

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PMA Fresh Summit lands in the Big Easy

NEW ORLEANS — The Produce Marketing Association kicked off its 68th annual Fresh Summit convention and exposition Oct. 20, here, drawing members of the fresh fruit, vegetable and floral industry from around the globe. While the final numbers were not yet available, there were indications that the event would draw a record number of attendees.

Melissa Hartmann de Barros, Rubens Zylberkan, Ryan Reilly, Homero Levy de Barros and Samantha Barthel of HLB Specialties promoted the company’s newest addition to its tropical fruit line — pitahaya.

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U.S.: Brix “two to three times higher” for yellow dragonfruit, says HLB Specialties

Florida-based tropical fruit importer HLB Specialties is upbeat for the prospects of yellow dragon fruit in the United States following two successful shipments to kick off Ecuador as a newly available country of origin

In a statement, operations director Andres Ocampo told Fresh Fruit Portal the fruit was brought in via air freight to service both East and West Coast markets.

“So far we have had great reception from our customers, one of them mentioning that he had never called back as fast as he did after receiving our pitahaya (dragon fruit) samples,” Ocampo said.

“We measured brix on the fruit and we got 24, which is between two to three times as high as what you get on the red dragon fruit, which is sometimes compared to pitahaya although they bear different PLUs (price look-up code),” he said of brix, a common measurement for sweetness in the fruit sector.

“We will have the fruit available at our booth (#3653) at PMA Fresh Summit for our customers to sample an enjoy the newly available product in the USA.”

He added the season would be year-round but with lower volumes in May and June.

“We are aiming for customers who crave new flavors and are looking for a different product that carries a lot of taste,” he said.

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“Shipping pitahayas started the minute the regulation came into effect”

“On October 7, we received our first shipment of pitahayas from Ecuador,” says Andres Ocampo with HLB Specialties. “Since then, we’ve done about 5-6 shipments. The product has made a strong start and we are very excited to continue growing it.” 
Ocampo first heard about the pitahaya from Ecuador a few years ago. “In February at Fruit Logistica in Berlin, there were rumors that the market for pitahayas from Ecuador would open up this year. It was a bit of a surprise to me that it came this quickly,” he shared. “I am very familiar with the fruit variety and have been working with growers for the past 1-1.5 years. The combination of knowing the fruit and actively pursuing the growers has enabled us to start importing pitahayas from Ecuador so quickly. The minute the regulation came into effect, we started shipping,” said Ocampo. This was at the end of September. 
Year-round production
Pitahayas are grown in Ecuador year-round, but production is sensitive to changes. As a result, supplies are exposed to small gaps. “Weather patterns have changed so much in the past few years, making production more unpredictable. Historically, production is lower in May and June.”
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More Than Papayas – And What You Need To Know About Salmonella And Food Outbreaks

HLB Specialties, a US papaya importer, was helpful in issuing information explaining the difference between various types of papayas, to educate the public and to avoid a disaster to the industry. There are three types of papaya commonly available, they explained:

Maradol papayas are large, weighing about three pounds. They have a yellow skin when ripe. Formosa, or Tainung papayas, are similar to Maradol in size and weight, but are greener and ready to eat before they fully turn yellow. The  Brazilian Golden papaya weighs only a pound.


While this recall of papayas is concerning, it needs to be kept in perspective. This outbreak is limited to fruit from a specific farm in Mexico. Papaya is a healthy fruit, packed with vitamins and antioxidants.

Continue to enjoy them, but read the labels for information on their origin.

In the grand scheme of things, this outbreak is a relatively small concern. And this outbreak is just one more example of why this administration’s proposals to gut the FDA and CDC are endangering us all. We need public health and oversight.

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Deadly salmonella outbreak expands to 19 states; some papaya brands recalled

HLB Specialties, a US papaya importer, released a statement Friday that emphasized the differences between brands, varieties and countries of origin.

“The outbreak is limited to one specific grower in the south of Mexico, Carica de Campeche, and the brands they distribute. Papayas from Guatemala, Brazil, Formosa papaya and other Maradol papaya brands from Mexico are not linked to the outbreak and are safe for consumption,” the statement said.
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Papaya importer urges media to keep consumers calm and educated

In light of the recent Salmonella outbreak associated with Maradol papayas from Mexico, one of the largest papaya importers into the United States is cautioning retailers and the media to make a clear distinction between the different papaya brands, growers, varieties and countries of origin.

The outbreak is limited to one specific grower in the south of Mexico, Carica de Campeche, and the brands it distributes, stressed HLB Specialties, an importer based in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Papayas from Guatemala, Brazil, Formosa papaya and other Maradol papaya brands from Mexico are not linked to the outbreak and are safe for consumption.


HLB hopes to educate shoppers on the different types of papaya and to dispel any confusion that may have arisen from the outbreak.

Melissa Hartmann de Barros, director of communications at HLB Specialties, said, “The safety of the consumers is our highest priority. We share their concern, but we also want to provide as much information as possible, so that shoppers can make an educated decision when buying papayas.”

Hartmann de Barros added, “We are seeing a lot of misinformation circulating, including pictures of the wrong papaya variety being used when referring to the Maradol papaya linked to the Salmonella outbreak.”

Maradol papayas are the large kind, weighing approximately three pounds and usually have a fully yellow skin when ripe. Formosa papayas, also known as Tainung papayas, are also large and similar to Maradol in size and weight, but they are greener and ready to eat when only half yellow. The small Brazilian Golden papaya variety weighs around one pound, is very sweet and ideal for personal use.

Papayas are considered one of the healthiest fruits in the world due to their high vitamin content, especially vitamin C, said Hartmann de Barros.

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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