Weather cruel to papaya growers

01/04/2011 11:45:33 AM
Mike Hornick

Weather was cruel to papayas in 2010. Other commodities, like bananas, were affected to varying extents.

“Nature is always destroying what you do,” said Homero Levy de Barros, president of HLB Tropical Food, which sources papayas in Guatemala, Belize, Brazil and Mexico. “I have nothing but respect for the growers. One grower said he’d come back in the next life as anything, a dog even, but not a papaya grower.”

If rethinking one’s spiritual prospects seems like an overreaction to weather, digging into the details might make it more understandable.

“Brazil had the worst crisis in the papaya fields in 30 years,” Levy de Barros said. “A hundred days without rain in production areas, almost no fruit at all for two months and high temperatures. In November, summer in Brazil, it was cold. We had Mexico flooded and one hurricane after another in Guatemala and Belize.

“The weather has been crazy like never before. All the historic data cannot be trusted.”

That makes it challenging for HLB to supply large retail chains.

“We work mostly on a program,” Levy de Barros said. “When we have a program, I can’t go to a retailer and say, ‘I don’t have fruit.’ It’s unacceptable.

“I can’t crop the fruit unless it has at least two stripes of yellow. If it doesn’t, consumers will say it tastes terrible and I’ll be destroying my own business. That poses a big challenge when we have to fulfill orders for a promotion in six weeks and there’s no sun or the fruit doesn’t mature.”

HLB diversifies risk by buying from discrete regions within each of the four countries.

“The weather has affected crops from all over Central America,” said Charlie Eagle, vice president of business development for Pompano Beach, Fla.-based Southern Specialties.

Where HLB for now concentrates on papayas, Southern Specialties sources a variety of fruits and vegetables that saw fewer struggles.

“Storms hampered what would typically be better supplies,” Eagle said. “They reduced our supplies for the Thanksgiving pull, but we expect to have excellent supplies for the Christmas and New Year’s pull.”

Bananas out of Costa Rica, Guatemala and Honduras are expected to see supply shortages early in 2011 because of cold and wet weather there, according to Coral Gables, Fla.-based Del Monte Fresh Produce.

The Caribbean, which supplies bananas to Europe, is experiencing similar shortages, Juan Alarcon, chief executive officer of Coral Gables-based Turbana Corp., told The Packer.

Fewer retailers will be likely to drop their regular price of 59 cents a pound to 49 or 39 cents for promotions, Alarcon said.



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