After 13 years of focusing exclusively on papayas, Plantation, Fla.-based HLB Tropical Food is broadening its horizons, said Homero Levy de Barros, the company’s president.
Mangoes, limes and avocados are now on the company’s Central American roster.
Barros is the first to admit he’s no expert on mangoes, limes and avocados. But he eventually wants to bring the same level of expertise HLB has on papayas to those commodities.
“We still want to have that specialist philosophy,” he said.
It’s that approach that Barros hopes will help distinguish him in the marketplace. One of his goals will be to close the information gap between those who grow and ship the commodities to those who eat them — something HLB already has done with papayas.
“There’s such a lack of education among consumers,” he said.
“How to eat it, the benefits of eating it, when is it ripe.”
Working with retailers on signage, point of purchase materials and other educational outreach efforts with consumers is key, he said. Packaging also can play a crucial educational role.
A magazine advertising campaign also is on the horizon for HLB.
The other way to bridge that gap with consumers, Barros said, is to make sure you’re offering them only the highest-quality product.
“Part of it is bringing in ripe, high-quality fruit,” he said.
“Increasing the eating quality is the only way to get repeat sales.”
A recurring problem with papayas and mangoes from Central American and the Caribbean is that they can look great on the outside, but not taste good, Barros said.
A native of Brazil, Barros was raised on eating freshly-picked, ripe, high-quality tropical fruit. He has high standards when it comes to papayas, and he will try to bring those same high standards to mangoes, limes and avocados.
That will mean being a niche player, he said, with the niche being premium quality.
“I have no intention of challenging any large distributors,” he said.
“I’m not interested in doing big volumes. I’m interested in doing ready-to-eat, better-eating product. We choose our growers very carefully.”
HLB’s decision to branch out into other commodities comes at a time when the company is experiencing rapid growth, Levy de Barros said.
The company has added about 50% more employees in the past two years.
“We’re very happy, we can’t complain,” he said.
“There are tremendous opportunities to grow and do a better job.”