In 1984, Willy Pardo started selling exotic and tropical produce from the back of his truck in Miami to neighbors who wanted items that were staples of their diets but not always easy to find in supermarkets.
A quarter-century later, W.P. Produce has grown into a full-line purveyor of tropical and exotic items headed by Mr. Pardo and his daughter, Vice President Desirée P. Morales.
The company has had great success as an importer of Dominican avocados and Hispanic specialties. Now, W.P. is branching out to cover another growing demographic group.
“We just started bringing in a full line of Orientals, like Indian bitter melon, Chinese bitter melon, sno peas, sugar snaps, okra, eggplant, Thai and small green chilis and green papaya,” Ms. Morales said. “All of that we’re bringing in from the Dominican Republic.”
W.P. has dealt in Asian specialties piecemeal for quite some time, but growing demand led the company to make those items a permanent part of its program. W.P. ramped up Asian imports earlier this fall and, once assured that the quality of the items met its standards, in November began marketing those items under its prestigious “Desbry” brand.
“That program started in November and goes three to four months,” Ms. Morales said. “It’s new to us in a sense that we’re doing it full-force where before we used to sometimes. Our customers were asking for it, the demand was there, so we decided to go all the way in and we did. We’ve been doing it for the past two months and we’ve decided the quality is right and we’re going to put our brand on it. We waited to put our brand on the boxes. Now we’re putting our ‘Desbry’ brand on there, so it should be a pretty good season for Orientals.”
W.P.’s specialty is avocados, and the company expects a larger crop this year due to increased production in the Dominican Republic. That season also began in November and will run through April. The company also carries a full line of tropical and exotic fruits, roots and vegetables, including papayas, plantains, pineapples, manzanos, malanga, name, yucca, chayote and calabaza.
Originally, W.P. serviced ethnic groups who wanted the same foods they could get back home. Now, Ms. Morales said many of those items have crossed cultural boundaries and become just another part of American diets.
“If I had to put a number on it I would say at least 30-40 percent of the demand is a cross-cultural thing now,” Ms. Morales said. “You have a food network on television showing you all of this — I feel like now our palate is global. We’re eating foods from all around the world, Indian food, Mexican food, all types of food. It’s extremely exciting. Honestly, a lot of this I had to try myself, a lot of the Orientals, and they’re really good.”