“The more people travel and are exposed to new products, the greater the chances that they will buy those exotic items to share with their family and friends,” said Homero Levy de Barros, president and chief executive officer of HLB Specialties in Pompano Beach, FL. “At HLB, we feel it is our job to provide information on how the fruit should be handled, prepared and eaten. And it also helps to keep the nutritional value of tropical fruits in the forefront of our customers’ and consumers’ minds.”
HLB Specialties began importing and distributing into Europe in 1992. It began shipping into the United States in 1998. The company grows, packs and distributes a wide array of premium tropical fruits from around the globe. Its risk-management strategy to diversify growing areas enables it to create and customize large programs with retailers and wholesalers, big and small.
Mr. de Barros’ daughter, Melissa Hartmann de Barros, serves as director of communication for HLB Specialties. She noted that while papayas — both large and small varieties — are the company’s strength, it also handles several varieties of mangos, avocados, limes and rambutan.
“All of our tropical products, with the exception of rambutan, are currently moving into the U.S.,” Ms. de Barros said in late February. “The rambutan season starts at the end of April and runs through November. All of our other tropical items run on a year-round program.”
The company’s papayas are produced in Guatemala, Brazil and Mexico. Its mangos are imported from Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Guatemala, Mexico and Haiti. Avocados are grown in Mexico and Peru, and limes and rambutan are both produced in Guatemala.
Ms. de Barros said that fruits and vegetables are always at risk of disease and weather pressures. “It is the nature of our business,” she said. “And it is why we source from several countries whenever possible, and sometimes from different regions within the same country. Diversification of sourcing is the key to successful programs. But even so, there are many times when we are affected.”
Mr. de Barros added, “It takes a long time — sometimes years — to develop a good relationship with meticulous growers who are knowledgeable, financially stable, food-safety conscious and export-minded. “And it is important for our growing partners to not let temporarily higher prices in the internal market divert their focus on long-term strategy. We therefore take great pride in maintaining relationships with our growers for decades. They in turn trust our work to defend the fair price for their products.
As HLB Specialties moves toward its 25th anniversary in business, Ms. de Barros said that the company feels rewarded to be a part of this industry, both in North America and in Europe.
“Both markets offer huge potential for growth,” she said. “We feel that more people are rediscovering the pleasure and importance of eating non-processed foods. And so the future looks promising to us.”
HLB Specialties is currently increasing the pool of growing partners for its mango and papaya programs.
“Doing so helps to strengthen our ability to offer continuous programs with our retail and wholesale clients,” said Mr. de Barros. “We can supply our clients from our five distribution centers in the United States: Pompano Beach, McAllen, TX, Seattle and in both San Francisco and Los Angeles.
“There is no required minimum order on our products, and we can build mixed pallets of avocados, papayas, limes and mangos,” he continued. “This gives our clients the added benefit of reducing transportation and handling costs.”
“We will bring any of our products into any of our five distribution centers to supply our customers on request,” said Ms. de Barros. “From these centers we distribute across the U.S. and into Canada.”