HLB Specialties LLC got a boost this summer from the introduction of its organic formosa papayas, sourced from Mexico, and from the easing of U.S. import restrictions on Colombian goldenberries.
The organic formosa, or tainung, papaya from the Pompano Beach, Fla.-based importer debuted at retail in July and is expected to be available year-round.
“We are the first and, as far as I know, the only company to have substantial enough volumes of organic to tend to large supermarket programs,” said Homero Levy de Barros, president of HLB Specialties.
“It’s difficult to produce organic papayas,” he said. “Our project invested a lot of time, money and disciplined testing to make sure the shelf life will be there and we have the correct production year-round.”
Given that papayas are among the produce items, such as kale, with a reputation for being dense in nutrients, bringing the fruit into the organic fold was sort of like reaching for the brass ring. For HLB Specialties, at least, it was something more than a typical product rollout.
“Organic is still growing a lot,” Levy de Barros said. “More and more people want less pesticide use. We’ve had calls from everywhere. Our office in Germany was flooded with requests for information. So we’re happy we took the plunge three years ago and made the investment in organic papayas.”
The company cited 2015 Fresh Trends research pointing to overlap between papaya and organic shoppers. It indicated about 39% of papaya purchasers also bought organic produce. Among the 56 commodities studied, papayas showed the second-largest growth in organic purchases.
HLB Specialties also offers conventional formosas. Its golden calimans are sourced in Brazil. A new sticker on HLB papayas includes a ripeness indicator showing what color papayas turn when sweet and ripe.
While papaya’s reputation is well established, the importer is still investigating the health benefits of goldenberries, also known as cape gooseberries. There’s some evidence the pectin in the fruit may help diabetes sufferers.
Whatever happens on the research front, importers caught a break this summer when the U.S. Department of Agriculture allowed goldenberry shipments from fruit fly-free zones in Colombia to enter the country without a cold treatment and 14-day quarantine.
“We were working with goldenberries for a couple of years, but the cold treatment was difficult and reduced shelf life,” Levy de Barros said in late August. “Now we don’t have to. We gain two more weeks, at least in theory. I think it’s going to grow a lot here in the U.S.”
Goldenberries resemble a small tomatillo with an easily removed brown papery husk covering round, cherry-sized fruit. It’s yellow when ripe and the flavor has sweet and tart aspects. HLB ships them in 3.5-ounce units — 12 baskets or nine clamshells per box.
“It’s a new product for the American taste, a little tart, but it’s a huge success in Europe,” he said.
They’re a common cocktail garnish. Other uses include desserts, juices, fruit salads and baking.