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Central American launches new programs in 2012

Michael Warren, president of Central American Produce, headquartered in Pompano Beach, FL, told The Produce News that many new and exciting changes have occurred within the company in the past year.

“In July, we added a pineapple program to our lineup,” said Mr. Warren. “Pineapples are not terribly difficult to handle, but they do require sensitive treatment. We have an exclusive arrangement with a farm in Costa Rica on the ‘Bella Vista’ brand, and we have invested in building a facility there to ensure that the fruit is handled to our specifications.”

Mr. Warren said that the company’s year-round mango program continues to expand, and from all of its sources in South America, Central America and Mexico.

Central American also recently started a papaya program out of Guatemala.

“These are the Tainung variety large papaya,” he said. “They have a lot more flavor than other large-size papayas. In the past we were bringing them in for some specific customers, but now we will have them on a year-round basis and available for all our customers. The first load arrived in mid-November.”

To complement these programs, and to better look after Central American’s interest, it opened an office in Los Angeles in October, and it hired a new sales and operational manager, John Meert, to head the office. Mr. Warren said that Mr. Meert has been in the produce industry for about 25 years, and has worked in numerous positions.

“Regionally, we have always had product going into that area,” said Mr. Warren, “but we wanted our own staff person to look out for our interest there. Especially now with these new year-round programs, it is necessary to have someone on the ground who can develop more intimate relationships with our customers.”

photo2Papayas being packed in Guatemala for Central American Produce.He said that it is truly amazing how tropical produce continues to grow in demand by conventional Americans as well as ethnic groups.

“Everyone today enjoys papayas, mangos, pineapples and all of the other products that fall under the ‘tropicals’ category,” he noted. “And at Central American, we are passionate about tropicals.”

The 2012-13 imported melon season was just beginning in late November, and Mr. Warren said that the honeydew and cantaloupe melons from Guatemala this year are outstanding in quality and flavor.

“The Guatemalan melon season runs through about mid-May,” he said. “We’ll be starting seedless watermelons in mid-January.”

The company also began a Honduras okra program in mid-November. The product will be available through April.

“We also have a butternut and spaghetti squash program that starts in January and runs through July,” said Mr. Warren. “This is an outstanding program today, especially in light of how squashes are being used more in restaurants and featured more on cooking networks and segments and in print media. Anyone who’s on a diet today knows that spaghetti squash makes a perfect alternative to high-carbohydrate pasta.”

Central American Produce’s food-safety program has been in place for 15 years, and the company consistently raises its bar. Mr. Warren said that due diligence in food safety and traceability is a standard practice at the company.

The company has always been involved in year-round offshore vegetable programs, and they, too, are going just as well as its tropicals line.

“We have handled onions, leeks, radishes, radicchio and more from Guatemala for going on 30 years,” said Mr. Warren. “What makes vegetables from Guatemala so outstanding in quality and great shelf life is the high altitude that they’re grown in. It’s very rich soil with deep organic matter. It’s really something that we can brag about — and live up to our bragging by delivering produce that lives up to our claim.”