HLB Specialties LLC added mangoes, avocados and rambutan to its lineup all within the past year, intent on repeating a strategy it developed during 20 years of marketing papayas.
For Homero Levy de Barros, president and chief executive officer of Pompano Beach, Fla.-based HLB Specialties, shepherding fruit through the supply chain is comparable to minding someone else’s children.
“My main concern with papayas is to fulfill orders with the quality standards the clients expect,” he said.
“With the other products we are learning how to improve the eating quality, appearance and logistics. We can make a difference by babysitting these for our customers.”
“When we visit a grower, I say I want fruit in this color and so much percentage of brix for a client in a cold region,” Levy de Barros said.
“Now we are using the same custom service on new products.”
For retailers, that approach can also mean receipt of limited or mixed pallet quantities. Such shipments have been available since September 2011, when HLB Specialties started operations as a partnership between Southern Specialties Inc. and HLB Tropical Food.
“Instead of moving volumes, we try to partner with growers who understand the concept of giving flavor than just moving price, price, price,” Levy de Barros said.
“There are clients for both. The new products are almost like a commodity, but I’m trying to do something different, almost like a boutique product. Not necessarily more expensive, just a better eating quality.”
Some new packaging was still under development in late November.
At the time, mango production was in Ecuador. HLB’s supply of that fruit rotates in turn to Peru, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti and then Brazil.
Its Guatemalan-grown rambutan hit stores in June. The season ended in early November and resumes in March. Avocados are year-round.
“Where at one point (HLB’s) strength was papaya, now they’re really transitioning to become our tropicals marketing arm,” said Charlie Eagle, vice president for business development for Pompano Beach-based Southern Specialties.
Breaking tommy atkins’ grip
The quality of mangoes on the U.S. market is a pet peeve for Levy de Barros, who’d like to turn the issue into an opportunity.
“I get a mango hard as a rock,” he said of a less than memorable shopping trip. “Tommy atkins travels well but is one of the least desirable in quality. There are 350 varieties of mango. I can bring one of those into the U.S. As a Brazilian I would never eat a tommy.”