U.S. importers expect larger volumes of papayas, limes and other fruits this season.
Eddie Caram, general manager of Princeton, Fla.-based New Limeco LLC, said his company is expanding its Central American papaya business.
What used to be four or five containers per week of Guatemalan papayas for New Limeco is now closer to nine, Caram said.
“We’ve seen a gradual increase on papayas,” he said. “We’re focusing on expanding some products.”
One of the reasons for the company’s bigger papaya volumes is a string of good nutritional news about the fruit, Caram said — and American consumers’ willingness to listen to it.
“Papayas are becoming more popular because of all the health benefits,” Caram said. “People in the states are waking up to the fact that it’s a healthful item.”
But nutritional awareness isn’t the only thing driving papaya category growth.
The quality of the fruit New Limeco is bringing up from Central America has been increasing in recent years, Caram said.
Much of that has to do with the company’s decision to focus on Guatemalan papayas.
“We think (the quality) is better in Guatemala,” Caram said. “Better soil, better shelf life, better taste.”
But Caram says not to take his word for it.
“We get a lot of tweets, and comments on Facebook from consumers” about the quality of the papayas, he said.
About 26 million pounds of papayas were exported from Guatemala to the U.S. and 36 million pounds from Belize to the U.S. last season, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
New Limeco also is increasing plantain production, adding Central American product to the mix, Caram said.
“We had brought them in from South America, now we also bring them from Costa Rica,” he said.
The deal, which started small, is growing steadily.
“We started with a pallet, now we’re up to half a load per week,” he said.
Most of the plantains New Limeco imports from Costa Rica wind up in U.S. wholesale markets, Caram said.
Charlie Eagle, vice president of business development for Southern Specialties, Pompano Beach, Fla., said his company expects to ship blackberries, limes and other fruits from Central America this season.
Southern Specialties sources the bulk of Central American fresh fruits and fresh vegetables from Guatemala, Eagle said.
The company has enjoyed recent success in its Central American lime program, increasing acreage.
Despite the increased production and demand, Mother Nature hasn’t entirely cooperated this season, he said.
“We’re shipping from Guatemala, but it’s been a slow season. It’s a little drier.”
Mangoes from Guatemala and, to a lesser extent, Nicaragua are set to ship in spring, with March and April likely the dominant months of the deal, said William Watson, executive director of the Orlando-based National Mango Board.
“They had a pretty good season last year, and we don’t expect to see any changes this year,” Watson said. “They should meet, and possibly exceed” 2013 volumes.
Central American fruit typically arrives around the same time as southern Mexican mangoes, taking over the lion’s share of volume from Peru, but thanks to emphases on different varieties, the deals have no trouble coexisting, he said.
“It dovetails pretty well with Mexico. They complement each other well. (Central America) has beautiful fruit.”
Tommy atkinses dominate the Central American deal, though some ataulfos and other yellow varieties should make it to the U.S. in 2014, Watson said.
Thus far, most growers outside of Mexico haven’t had stunning success growing yellow varieties.
“There are some yellows but not much” out of Central America, Watson said. “(Growers) are still trying to figure it out. It’s not necessarily that they’re harder to grow, there’s just not a lot of experience outside of Mexico.”
But that won’t likely always be the case.
“It’s just a matter of time” before yellow acreage increases in Central America and other growing regions outside Mexico, Watson said.
About 17,257 metric tons of mangoes were exported from Guatemala to the U.S. and 3,952 metric tons were exported from Nicaragua to the U.S. last season, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.