“The crops look great, in fact everything’s looking good,” said Michael Warren, president of Pompano Beach, Fla.-based Central American Produce Inc., who has honeydew and cantaloupe in the ground in Honduras, seedless watermelons in Guatemala and Honduras, and butternut and spaghetti squash now being harvested in both countries.
Warren also is expecting sales of leeks, radishes, green onions and radicchio from Guatemala to pick up for the holidays.
“We’re getting a lot of rain in the area and experiencing some delays,” he said Nov. 24, “but we’re prepared for it.”
After last year’s tough winter, Warren and other importers are bracing for the cold ahead.
“The cold definitely makes it harder to move some of the fruit crops,” he said. “A mild winter would lead to more fruit being consumed.”
If the weather holds, Pompano Beach-based Southern Specialties also is anticipating a strong holiday season, said Charlie Eagle, vice president of business development.
Eagle said the Guatemala blackberry deal is winding down and will pick up again in February, while supplies of Mexican blackberries remain tight following hurricane Patricia.
Guatemala is also the source for Southern Specialties’ french beans, sugar snaps and baby vegetables.
“Typically our season kicks in at the end of January and early February,” he said.
Okra specialist Paul Boris, vice president sales for Deerfield Beach, Fla.-based Agritrade Farms, is starting to import Asian vegetables from Honduras and the Dominican Republic, where the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service ban continues after an outbreak of Mediterranean fruit fly.
“The Dominican Republic has been basically shut down for exports since March except for a handful of items,” said Jessie Capote, executive vice president for Miami-based J&C Tropicals, whose avocado and chili pepper programs are affected by the federal quarantine.
“They thought they would have it under control by now,” Capote said, “but there’s no end in sight.”
With okra becoming a year-round crop, thanks to newer growing areas such as Honduras and Nicaragua, its popularity continues to rise, said Robert Schueller, director of public relations for Los Angeles-based World Variety Produce, which markets under the Melissa’s brand.
“We’ve seen okra becoming more popular outside the Southeast, where it’s a staple in Creole cuisine,” Schueller said.
By sheer volume and sales, however, he said the biggest item distributed from Central America is the papaya, much of it from Belize and Guatemala.
“Demand is strong,” he said, “and I think people are learning the differences between the four main varieties.
“We’re even getting green papaya from Mexico to use raw in Thai salads.”
But papaya has its own challenges, he said. Supplies have been tight in Belize for the last few winters, leading to a reliance on Guatemala, which is increasing its production.
Sophie Soudai, president of Miami-based Alternative Global Logistics, said her main focus these days is on helping Central American companies meet the Food and Drug Administration’s new food safety regulations.
“Companies overseas don’t understand that a lot of the bigger retailers won’t do business with them if they don’t comply,” she said, “and they could be banned from importing to the U.S. completely.”
Though compliance may seem daunting, Soudai said it doesn’t have to cost millions of dollars. However, it does require due diligence, she said, starting with careful record-keeping and combing through the company’s supply chain, perhaps automating it.
“Food safety has to be first and foremost,” she said. “People want to know who they’re buying from, and if something happens you need to be able to trace it all the way back so we can responsibly react to a situation.”
SOURCE: The Packer