“Bananas and plantains are now our biggest items,” Emil Serafino, vice president of the Exp Group LLC, in North Bergen, NJ, told The Produce News on Feb. 23. “We currently have six rooms in operation and construction is underway now for an additional eight. Within the next 12 months we will have 21 ripening rooms in operation.”
Mr. Serafino noted that growth in the tropical fruit and vegetable category is being spurred by ethnic groups that have immigrated to the United States.
“In the 1930s and 1940s, the majority of immigrants were coming from Europe, but in the past 20 years that has switched to mainly populations from Central and South America and the Caribbean,” he said. “Today a major part of our population growth is from these countries.”
He also noted that the growth of the Hispanic population in the United States is about much more than mangos and avocados. When people immigrate to a new country, they bring their food cultures with them, and that is passed down to their children and their children’s children.
“Fruits like plantains, bananas, coconuts and mangos, and root vegetables such as yucca, boniato, yellow yam, chayote and malanga are all inclusive in this culture’s list of traditional food staples,” said Mr. Serafino.
Hispanics and Latinos make up about 30 percent of New York City’s population. Miami reports that its population includes about 1 million Haitians. But immigrants and their food cultures are in towns and cities of all sizes across the country.
Exp Group’s distribution center is in New Jersey, but the company is headquartered in the Dominican Republic. It also has another headquarters in San Carlos, Costa Rico, and installations in Santa Cruz, Mexico and in Nicaragua.
“We also handle product from Ecuador, Haiti, Honduras, Panama and Guatemala,” said Mr. Serafino. “Because of these multiple grower-partner relationships, our line of tropical items is available year round.”
The company also does substantial business with avocados. Its green-skinned avocado program out of the Dominican Republic grows continually.
Exp Group’s shippers brand the company’s products. The “Gape” label is used on all products from Costa Rica, such as yucca, chayote, malanga and pineapples. The “B&C” brand is also a Costa Rican grower and shipper of chayote and fresh and frozen yucca. The “Totot” and “Tropi Crown” labels are used for Haitian mangos, and the “Rosita” label denotes products from the Dominican Republic, which includes hot peppers, sour oranges and avocados.
The Exp Group uses its “Selvatica” brand on bananas and plantains from Ecuador. From Nicaragua, “AgroNica” is used for malanga, coconut and okra.
The company is focusing on its “Selvatica” and “Bonita” labels for its growing banana and plantain programs.
The Exp Group likes to do things on the quiet side, but today it is strongly emphasizing and promoting its increased banana and plantain programs. The company markets predominantly throughout the Northeast.
“We are putting the finishing touches on our newly renovated website, which we expect to have up and running by the end of February,” said Mr. Serafino.
“All of our products are enjoying typical movement and prices are normal,” he continued. “Things are status quo with tropical products, and we’re happy about that.”