Courtesy Southern SpecialtiesFrench beans grow under protection in a Guatemalan field for Southern Specialties. Southern Specialties also plans to pack sugar snap peas, snow peas, baby squash and several varieties of tomatoes this season in bulk and under its Southern Selects label.Chayote squash and tomatoes are among the vegetables U.S. importers expect to ship more of from Central America this season.
Eddie Caram, general manager of Princeton, Fla.-based New Limeco LLC, said his company expects to import yucca, squash, white yams and other vegetables from Costa Rica and Nicaragua this winter.
But the timing isn’t unique to mid-winter, he said.
“Most are coming in now, and most are year-round (deals),” Caram said in late November.
Chayote squash is one Central American item New Limeco is bringing in more of compared to a few years ago, Caram said.
The company now imports about two loads of the item per week. The chayote deal has a lot of things going for it, Caram said.
“It’s available year-round, it’s steady — not so expensive at retail. And it’s used in a lot of things.”
Customers have created a booming market for chayote in the U.S., Caram said. They use a lot of the vegetable in soups, stir-fries, coleslaw and other dishes.
The U.S. imported about 659 metric tons of squash from Costa Rica and 111 metric tons from Nicaragua last season, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Charlie Eagle, vice president of business development for Southern Specialties, Pompano Beach, Fla., said the 2013 Central American season has gone well so far.
“So far this year we’ve been fortunate,” he said. “We’ve had few dramatic episodes that have been disastrous to crops.”
Southern Specialties sources the majority of its Central American vegetables year round, mostly from Guatemala, Eagle said.
The company expects to pack French beans, sugar snap peas, snow peas, baby squash and other baby vegetables, brussels sprouts, specialty tomatoes and other vegetables in bulk packs and under the company’s Southern Selects label this season, Eagle said.
“Right now we’re just starting to ramp up our peas and tomatoes,” Eagle said in early December.
Southern Specialties’ Central American tomato lineup for this season includes heirlooms, baby heirlooms, teardrops and tomatoes on the vine, Eagle said.
The company has increased production of Central American heirlooms and other hydroponic varieties from the region to supplement its Florida and Mexico tomato volumes, he said.
This is the first season Southern Specialties plans to ship heirlooms from Central America.
“We’ve been doing heirlooms for about 10 years, but this is the first year from Guatemala,” Eagle said. “We felt there were some seasonal opportunities with our experienced growers.”
The Guatemalan tomato deal has several things going for it, Eagle said.
“Logistics and labor are advantageous (shipping) into Florida,” he said. “We save days and have better controls over quality.”
The new Guatemalan heirlooms started shipping under the Southern Selects label in December, Eagle said.
The U.S. imported about 5.5 million pounds of tomatoes from Guatemala last season, according to the USDA.
Snow and sugar snap peas, meanwhile, should begin shipping from Guatemala in promotable volumes by the second half of December, he said.
“French beans and peas are the volume items for us,” Eagle said.