Melissa Hartmann DeBarros, director of communication for HLB Specialties, headquartered in Pompano Beach, FL, told The Produce News that although the company handles several offshore products, it’s strength is in papayas.
“We bring papayas in from Brazil, Guatemala and Mexico,” said Ms. Hartmann DeBarros, “and all three countries provide us with year-round programs. The papayas from Brazil are the small golden type, which is a variation of the Sunrise Solo. We source the large Tainung variety from Mexico and from Guatemala. We refer to the Tainung by our marketing name; the Formosa, because it is how Brazilians traditionally refer to it. Because we are from Brazil, we wanted to retain the name. Our primary brand name from Brazil is ‘Caliman,’ and from Mexico we use the ‘HLB’ label. The ‘HLB’ label is for fruit from Mexico, and it is shipped to the Midwest and Western U.S.”
HLB Specialties sources from two growers in Guatemala to help to keep its volumes strong. Ms. Hartmann DeBarros said that production in all three countries is picking up.
“We’re moving a good amount of papayas currently,” she said. “Our movement on the product is up by about 50 percent from just last year.”
She added that the company is very pleased with the appearance and flavor of the papayas that the company is sourcing, and there have been no issues with diseases or insects reported from any of the countries.
The large Formosa is different from the large Maradol, and the company is still somewhat challenged by customers on the West Coast of the U.S. who have traditionally bought the Maradol.
“The Formosa has more of an oblong shape while the Maradol is rounder,” explained Ms. Hartmann DeBarros. And the Formosa has smoother skin. Normally people like to consume the Maradol when it is very ripe, but this reduces the shelf life for the retailer. The advantage the Formosa has is that it is ready to eat when it is still on the green side, with one or two stripes of yellow. This is when it has its full flavor, although it can still sit on the shelf for several days without beginning to break down.”
HLB Specialties began importing and distributing into Europe in 1992. It began shipping into the United States in 1998. The company’s existence is approaching 25 years.
The company broaches its customers with that many years of experience, and a proverbial encyclopedia on how to properly handle papayas so that consumers will quickly become repeat customers.
“Shipping maturity should not be less than 30 percent yellow in color,” said Ms. Hartmann DeBarros. “At between 30 and 50 percent yellow is when the fruit should be put on the shelf. This gives the retailer another nice period of time to sell the fruit — about a week — which is a very nice shelf life. If customers buy them and try to eat them when they are less ripe, their experience won’t be good. But if they cut into a papaya that is at the perfect ripeness, they cannot help but to buy more because they are so delicious.”
The Mexican papaya program comes through McAllen, TX. She said that the farming operation in Mexico is less than 24 hours from the U.S. border, and so fruit can be at customers’ doors within three days.
The company also handles avocados from Mexico, which also enter the United States at McAllen.
Besides McAllen and Pompano Beach, the company also has distribution facilities in Los Angeles, CA, San Francisco, CA, and Seattle, WA.
“We will bring any of our products into any of our five distribution centers to supply our customers on request,” said Hartmann DeBarros. “From these centers we distribute across the U.S. and into Canada.”