Tropical fruit importers feel pressure to keep prices low

01/07/2010 03:20:08 PM

Suppliers of wintertime produce from Central America and the Caribbean are finding that in the economic downturn they have to lower prices in order to keep customers.

“Some of the things that you fought to hold pricing on some years ago, maybe you give a little bit,” said Jessie Capote, vice president of operations at J&C Enterprises, Miami, who imports from Costa Rica, Honduras and Panama.

“You are more flexible so you can meet people halfway on something that they couldn’t buy before or so they can buy something that they used to buy.”

Lou Kertesz, vice president of Fresh Quest Produce Inc., Pompano Beach, Fla., said that also means smoothing out price fluctuations.

“It’s better for demand when you have prices that are more stable and don’t have fluctuation or high prices,” he said. “Anytime in a tough economy you can keep prices stable, that has more benefits to it than it has negatives.”

Kertesz said that even though people have to eat, high prices to customers get passed on to consumers making tougher grocery choices, but he is hoping those choices are healthy ones.

“We are in health related industry. Food that we have is nutritious,” he said. “I would say it’s a recovering economy, but not necessarily a fully boosted one.”

Larry Leighton, president of Caribbean Fruit Connection Corp., Miami, said an added business challenge arises for suppliers intent on providing high quality, pricier products to customers who are willing to sacrifice quality for price.

“Not everybody is willing to buy on quality. They may go on price. So you tend to lose market share, particularly in this time,” he said. “You hear people say, ‘I have to buy on price. I have to compete.’”

Leighton said his shippers have put a tremendous amount of effort and energy into quality product selection and packing.

“On the other hand, maybe our price will be 5% higher than yams that are perhaps being processed and packed in facilities that have much lower overheads and may or may not weigh 40 pounds net,” he said. “The people you really want to work with are the people who also care for the same things.”

Mary Ostlund, director of marketing for Brooks Tropicals, Homestead, Fla., argued that tropicals — whether vegetables or fruit — are already priced at good values for consumers.

“Luckily, I think that people realize that a lot of tropicals are bargains,” she said. “For example, with Caribbean red papayas you get a lot of papaya for the buck, and Florida avocados are much larger and there is a lot of meat in those avocadoes. There’s a lot of bang for the buck.”


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