Mini watermelons are a new deal for Central American Produce, headquartered in Pompano Beach, FL.
Meanwhile, “Our cantaloupe and honeydew melon season from Central America is under way [in] Guatemala,” Michael Warren, president of the company, told The Produce News in late November. “It will run through early May.”
Mini watermelons were to begin in mid-December. Volumes will be light this first season, Warren said, but he noted that customers have been requesting the product. The watermelons will be available through April.
“Our offshore melon programs began strong,” said Warren. “Volumes are expected to be lighter than last year due to weather issues with all producers in Guatemala. I don’t think we’ll see that change until spring.”
He said that the lighter volumes could cause some price pressure, but that it also means more controlled volumes, which translates to not having excess volumes in any given week.
“In late December we’ll start our squash deal,” said Warren. “Winter squashes, including spaghetti, butternut and acorn, will be coming in from Guatemala and Honduras. We’ll have these available pretty much into June.
“There is some domestic squash in storage, but a little less this year,” he continued. “Our offshore squashes are grown at a high altitude in volcanic soil, and so they have a natural sweetness that customers find very appealing.”
Central American Produce’s offshore squash programs will run through June.
After the first of the new year, the company will begin its regular run of seedless watermelons, also grown at high altitude, from Guatemala. Warren said this is a very good program for the company.
He noted that people enjoy watermelons year-round today.
“In colder months people tend to cut them and sell them ready-to-eat,” he said. “Consumers are also learning increasingly about the health benefits of watermelon, and that adds to the constant demand. And the item is a great complement to the rest of our melon line.”
On the tropical side of the company’s business, its year-round program remains strong and growing.
“Our mangos are a major item for us today,” said Warren. “In December we’ll be finishing our Ecuador program and starting Peru. Mango acceptance is outstanding today, and our company is putting a great deal of focus on the item as a core commodity.”
The company also has a pineapple program out of Costa Rica, and a Tainung papaya program from Guatemala.
“Our tropical category is very important, and we’ve developed a great customer base,” explained Warren. “We are extremely selective about where and who we buy these items because we demand very high quality.”
Warren believes that papayas have a very strong future in the United States, similar to how mangos took off several years ago.
“And the category looks nice on store shelves when merchandised together,” said Warren. “Regardless of what the weather is like outdoors, tropical produce brings a strong ray of sunshine into produce departments year-round. We plan to continue growth in this category.”
Throughout the company’s history, which began in 1976 when Warren’s father, David N. Warren, founded the firm, Central American Produce has been well-known for its vegetable line. Its year-round program includes green onions, leeks, radicchio and fresh bunch radishes.
“Our vegetable line is sold under our “M&S” brand,” said Warren. “It has a very strong following, and it’s known as a solid and dependable category for our company.”
The company is also diversifying in its distribution range. In addition to bringing product into northern ports, it now imports into Norfolk, VA, and brings melons into Florida and Los Angeles, and some through Houston.
“We are taking advantage of numerous geographic locations for as many of our products as possible,” said Warren.
He also announced that the company rehired Shannon Barthel about three months ago as its director of marketing. Barthel, a 25-year industry veteran, was most recently director of West Coast operations for Southern Specialties. Prior to that, she was with Central American Produce for nine years.
“Shannon is helping us to reach out to more new customers as our volumes grow, and she is developing marketing and branding approaches,” said Warren. “We are very happy to have her back with us.
“Everything else is going well at Central American Produce,” he continued. “We have a great and growing staff, which is now up to about 25 full-time, year-round employees. And we’re always looking to add more talented professionals to our team.”