A recent Salmonella outbreak and the ensuing media coverage have cast papayas in a bad light, but a leading importer and distributor of the fruit wants retailers to know that the outbreak was limited to one variety of papaya from Mexico, and there are tremendous sales opportunities for retailers who market papayas correctly.
Melissa Hartmann de Barros, director of communications for HLB Specialties, based in Pompano Beach, FL,said that the variety tied to the Salmonella outbreak was the large Maradol papaya from Mexico, not the smaller Golden variety in which HLB has specialized for close to 20 years.
“The small Golden papayas got bad press because they were illustrated in stories run by some publications,” said Ms. Hartmann de Barros. “In fact, we were very surprised to hear about any papayas being tied to Salmonella, because the fruit is grown off the ground and drip irrigation is used, so there are no obvious causes [for Salmonella].”
Ms. Hartmann de Barros said that supplies of large papayas currently are limited, in part because of the Salmonella scare and also because production is down. However, small Golden papayas remain in good supply.
HLB sources its small Golden papayas from Brazil on a year-round basis and has had a long relationship there with its largest growing partner, Caliman. However, several years ago the firm added three other growers in Brazil as a way to ensure supplies if weather or other factors limit production from a particular region.
As a papaya specialist, HLB handles the larger Tainung variety as well, which is sourced from Mexico and Guatemala. Providing choices to the marketplace is important, said Ms. Hartmann de Barros.
“The large varieties are great for families, when a lot of people are consuming it,” she said. “The small variety is perfect for individual portions. Also, the small Golden variety is sweeter and juicier than the large varieties, and they are easier to handle and store. We feel that retailers that do not offer both varieties are losing potential revenue.”
Acknowledging that all varieties and sourcing regions are important, HLB still has a special affinity for its farms in Brazil.
“[Papaya] from Brazil has never been associated with Salmonella or any other food-safety outbreak,” said Ms. Hartmann de Barros. “Since we sell a lot to the European marketplace, our growers are used to meeting the high standards that Europe demands, and we only work with growers that are certified in GlobalGap. We have a [U.S. Department of Agriculture] certified inspector on our farms in Brazil who certifies all outbound shipments. Additionally, we get periodic visits by inspectors from the FDA and USDA, who check for pathogens. Also, Caliman implemented a stickering program with GTIN number for its papayas, which allows for traceability.”
She added that fruit from Brazil has longer shelf life, since it is flown to the United States. Fruit from Mexico typically arrives via truck, and fruit from Central America is typically shipped by sea in container vessels.
HLB is looking to educate retailers and consumers alike about papayas as a way to increase its business. Toward that end, the firm has enlisted a leading natural foods retailer to distribute posters and other materials that highlight proper handling and usage of papayas. So far, those efforts appear to be paying off.
“HLB is having one of its best years ever,” said Ms. Hartmann de Barros. “We increased our sales 83 percent compared with the same period last year. The increase is mostly due to an increase in sales of the Golden variety, which is the result of a long-term strategy to secure more sales with our retailers. We sell the Golden papayas in a 7.7-pound box in sizes 7 through 12 and in a clamshell for clubstores, which carries 24 pieces of fruit in a 22-pound masterbox, with six clamshells that each hold four pieces of fruit.”
Joint venture opening doors
Last October, HLB Tropical Food USA Inc. announced that it would be forming a joint venture with Southern Specialties Inc. to create a new entity: HLB Specialties.
“The joint venture gives us a wider reach and access to a bigger client base,” said Ms. Hartmann de Barros. “We’ll have a stronger impact with this relationship. Basically, we wanted to simplify things for our clients and provide better service. We are stonger together.”
The move brings HLB Tropicals to the Southern Specialties facility in Pompano Beach, FL, and closer to the product that it sells.
“In Pompano, we are now next to our product in the warehouse,” she said. “It gives us better control over the product. We can see the fruit and are able to resolve issues much faster. Also, we can now consolidate papayas, limes, mangos and avocados on a single pallet for our clients.”
Ms. Hartmann de Barros added that the joint venture has opened doors for Southern Specialties as well.
“Eventually, we will start selling products to the European marketplace,” said Ms. Hartmann de Barros. “That would be an entirely new deal for Southern Specialties. We have great contacts with retailers in Germany and the rest of Europe.”