Deciding whether a produce item is a specialty item can be tricky because there’s no universally accepted definition for the category. Geography, clientele, availability and handling requirements can all play into whether an item is considered a specialty.
Some shippers said that although the category can include tropical produce, some types of tropical produce are not specialties in certain parts of the U.S.
“Many of the items we handle are commodities in different parts of the country,” said John Vena, president of specialty produce house John Vena Inc., Philadelphia.
“Fresh herbs, tropical fruits and vegetables — those are bigger volume items, but for some they are still considered specialties.”
John Vena Inc., located on the Philadelphia Regional Produce Market, handles more than 2,000 specialty stock-keeping units, Vena said. He said ethnic produce items should be grouped under specialties because they require special attention.
“Our products fall into a couple of categories,” said Karen Caplan, president and chief executive officer of specialty produce company Frieda’s Inc., Los Alamitos, Calif.
The first category is items that used to be specialties but now are more accurately called specialty commodities, she said. The second is what Caplan called “true specialties,” such as gourmet items.
Eddie Caram, general manager for tropical produce shipper New Limeco LLC, Princeton, Fla., said he thinks the label “specialty” sends a message that an item is either expensive or not consistently available.
New Limeco carries about 40 items, many of which are associated with particular ethnic cuisines and might be called specialties, but they are available year-round.
The company’s products include mangoes, papayas, Persian limes, tropical root vegetables, yuca and chayote. Its top selling items are limes, Florida avocados and papayas.
New Limeco items that Caram said he thinks of as true specialties are guava, lychee, kumquat, mamey, habanero and cachucha peppers, and starfruit.
Brooks Tropicals Inc., Homestead, Fla., sells more than 28 tropical stock-keeping units, said Mary Ostlund, marketing director. The Caribbean Red papaya is the company’s top seller, followed by its SlimCado-brand avocado, starfruit, Uniq fruit and Caribbean Sunrise solo papaya. Ostlund said she sees papayas as being mainstream items now.
“There are certain markets where I think it’s a highly prized staple,” she said.
Ostlund said having papayas viewed as specialty items can be good.
“In a way, I hate to give up (the label of) ‘specialties,’” she said. “It’s a way of saying, ‘Hey, try this!’”