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HLB Specialties sees great potential for organic papaya category

HLB Specialties, a distributor of tropical and specialty produce that bills itself as a papaya specialist, added an organic option to its line of papayas about a year ago, and so far the results have been positive.

“More people are discovering the health benefits of papayas, and being able to offer an organic option is a bonus,” said Lorenz Hartmann de Barros, director of sales for Pompano Beach, FL-based HLB Specialties. “We want to grow the organic category, and retailers who dont take advantage of carrying organic papayas are missing a big opportunity.”

Both club stores and retailers are distributing the organic papayas and have been supportive of HLB’s efforts to expand the organic papaya line. These stores have seen their overall papaya sales increase as a result of carrying an organic option.

organic-papayaAn organic papaya from HLB Specialities.Hartmann de Barros said HLB has plenty of volume on all sizes of organic papayas, which it offers in 22- and 32-pound boxes.

“We use the smaller box for the smaller fruit and the larger box for the larger fruit,” he said.

He said offering different sizes of fruit is helpful to appeal to a range of customers.

“A large papaya can be four or five pounds, and while that might be suitable for a family of four or more people, it would be too much for an individual or a small family,” he said. “A small piece of fruit is only one to two pounds, so that is better for a small family.”

He added that small fruit has a better sticker price and tends to bruise less as well, since there is less jostling during transit.

“When papayas are sold by weight, large fruit can cause sticker shock, because the per-pound price has to be multiplied by the weight of the fruit,” said Hartmann de Barros. “Small fruit does not have the same impact, since it is just a pound or two.”

Hartmann de Barros said organic papaya production is only about a year old, so it is still quite new. “But I feel that organic papayas will have strong appeal to all ages. The younger people are a large and growing demographic that are health-conscious and want to know where their food came from and how it was produced. But older people are also interested because they want to improve their diet and watch what they eat. Of course, all papayas can help people improve their health, and having an organic option helps reach the people who are only interested in organics.”

Organic challenges

Hartmann de Barros said organic fruit costs thousands of dollars more per hectare to produce than conventional fruit, since organic orchards produce less fruit per hectare and growers must invest in organic certifications.

So, while organic fruit commands a premium, it is still reachable to the average health-conscious consumer, making it a relative good buy for consumers interested in eating organic.

“It took us four years and a lot of money and sweat to develop the organic line,” he said. “It is a much more difficult crop to produce organically. For example, with conventional, if it rains you can go out into the orchard and spray it [with fungicide]. With organic fruit, you can’t do that. So there is really a lot more work involved with organics.”

Education paramount

Hartmann de Barros said the company receives calls to its office and feedback from customers via social media, which enables HLB staff members to educate people about the category. He also believes working with retailers to conduct tasting demos is valuable to get the word out about papayas.

“By being in direct contact with consumers, we have a chance to educate them about the papaya category,” he said. “For example, we can tell them that our products are non-GMO and not irradiated. And educating the retailers themselves is also necessary because different papaya varieties have different qualities. With the Tainung variety, they are ripe and ready to eat when they have 50 percent color. In fact, 50 percent color for Tainung is ideal, because if they ripen further, more of the sugars start fermenting and they lose their sweetness. So, these are all important points we try to make clear.”

Hartmann de Barros said a national papaya board would help the category tremendously, as it could shoulder the responsibility of educating the trade about proper handling, usage, and health benefits of papayas.

Formation of a board was championed by Hartmann de Barros father, Homero Levy De Barros, owner and president of HLB Specialties, and the industry is currently weighing the pros and cons of such an organization.

“We think it is a great idea,” said Hartmann de Barros,”but until we get the support of the rest of the industry and it becomes law, we just have to wait and continue doing what we are doing.”