ATLANTA Papaya industry leaders got together at the Produce Marketing Association"s Fresh Summit 2015 to discuss forming a marketing order.

A marketing order along with a national board to implement it would increase sales and consumption of papayas through efforts to educate consumers, receivers and retailers about handling and usage best practices, said Homero Levy de Barros, president and CEO of Pompano, Fla.-based HLB Specialities.

At the retail level, edible fruit is too often improperly rejected because of a lack of knowledge about color or other factors, he said.

Levy de Barros said he sees generally strong support for a marketing order.

"All the major importers from Brazil, Mexico and Guatemala were positively in favor," he said. "The growers/distributors from Belize and Jamaica said they were not convinced yet."

Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Brazil, Jamiaca, Dominican Republic and Costa Rica are the leading exporters of fresh papayas to the U.S.

"Every new idea takes time to sink in," Levy de Barros said. "From my conversation with the major players, which represent 80% of the market, they are in favor of the idea. This is a major change in the rules, and it will take some time for everyone to discuss in depth and clarify all angles of the proposal."

William Watson, president of Orlando, Fla.-based The Fresh Approach, walked attendees through the process of creating a marketing order during the Oct. 23 meeting.

Watson boasts executive marketing board experience at the National Mango Board and National Watermelon Promotion Board, both based in Orlando.

"William and I are putting together a report that will be sent to the major relevant growers and distributors, and it will ask for their approval, or not, to go ahead in forming a non-profit association that will coordinate the work toward presenting the USDA with the request to pass the law creating the papaya board," Levy de Barros said.

The next step after forming a non-profit board to fund the process, Watson said, would be going to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to make the case for forming the promotion board and conducting industry listening sessions to get input from importers and producers, he said.

"From the government side, we need to show we are serious and united about our proposal, and that everybody involved will benefit," Levy de Barros said. "Consumers will benefit from more knowledge about why and how they should eat papayas. Distributors with better venues to promote the product, retailers and wholesalers with a better understanding on how to receive, store and handle the fruit and the added promotion that eventually will translate into more sales.

"And finally the growers who will have a unified body to promote and defend their interests to educate everyone involved," he said. "If one does not know the fruit, he or she probably will not eat it, and there is a huge lack of knowledge about papayas, even though they has been available in the USA for more than 40 years."

Besides understanding the objective the indsutry seeks through the promotion board, USDA will want to know about the economic value of the papaya industry, volumes, domestic production, imports and the effect on small businesses, Watson said.

"You won"t promote a variety over another or region over another," he said.

In 2014, fresh papaya market value in the U.S. was nearly $106 milliion, up from around $87 million in 2010, he said,

A per-carton assessment would fund the board and its marketing, and proposals must spell out who pays and how much.

"Alone, it is a drop on the ocean," Levy de Barros said. "I want to create a tsunami, a waterfall, and nobody has the funds to do it alone. I have been investing in promoting papayas for the past 23 years, both in Europe and in the USA, but the results are directly correlated to the budget available. We are proposing an initial assessment of 1 penny per kilo, which I think is very little in view of the benefits that the industry will harvest."

In 2014, U.S. fresh papaya volume was more than 159 million metric tons, Watson said.

The non-profit board would submit a formal proposal to the USDA, which could take six to eight months to consider it before posting in The Federal Register for a 90-day comment period.

After weighing comments, a vote would be held, and if supporters carry the day, the secretary of agriculture appoints board members, a chairman is elected and budgets establisihed, Watson said.