Monday, June 4, 2007

'SlimCados' Poised to Make Strong Comeback for Brooks Tropicals

by Christina DiMartino

When hurricanes Katrina and Wilma hammered south Florida in 2005, they caused extensive damage to every crop that was in bloom, fruiting or planted, including avocados.

It has taken two years to recover, but Brooks Tropicals in Homestead, FL is celebrating the first great crop of Florida avocados sinces the storms.

"We are projecting 1.1 million bushels, or about 4.4 million 12.5-pound flats this year," said Mary Ostlund director of marketing for Brooks. "It is reason to celebrate because the hurricanes caused a 50 percent drop in volumes over the past two years. This crop is the first since then with normal volumes and high quality."

Ms. Ostlund explained that prior to the storms, trees were heavy with fruit, proving a major target for the strong wind and heavy rain. Fruit was torn from trees, causing extensive limb and tree damage.

"Following the storms, the trees had to be trimmed back and pruned" she said. " It takes more than a year for them to recover, so we have eagerly anticipated this season, which is living up to our expectations."

Pal Brooks, president and owner of the company has many years of experience with tropical fruits and is known as an expert in the category. Ms Ostlund said that he can look at a tree and determine its overall health. He and his staff have created a formidable forecast model based on their extensive experience.

"Pal can just look at a tree and tell you how old it is, its general health and how it will produce," she said. "I toured the groves with him in March to assess the early conditions. The heavy-flower blooms, he explained, indicated a strong crop. In mid-May I went back with him for an updated assessment, and he showed how the heavily laden trees were an indication of high volume and a great-quality crop."

Brooks Tropicals markets its avocados under the "SlimCado" name in order to distinguish them from Hass and other types. It markets about 70 varieties, which are all considered Florida avocados. The item's profile is considerably different that product grown in California and other areas. It is grown only in the Miami-Dade County region because it requires a true sub-tropical climate. It is larger and has a different appearance than Hass avocado.

"The early varieties are typically two to three times larger than the Hass," said Ms. Ostlund. "Because avocados don't ripen on the tree, they continue to grow larger until they are harvested. They can grow to as much as four or five times the size of other avocados as the season progresses. Between 12 and 18 ounces is not unusual, and late in the season they get as large as 16 to 26 ounces. The seed does not grow as the fruit increases in size, however, so consumers get more meat with the SlimCado. The skin is smooth, glossy green even when ripe.

"They are shipped hard and have a shelf life of about a week plus a couple of days after purchase. The only way to tell when they're ready to eat is to squeeze them gently to test the softness. People from the Pacific Rim, Caribbean and other tropical regions know this variety and tend to prefer them over others."

Another distinctive characteristic of Brooks' SlimCados is the considerably lower fat content. It has the "good" fat that makes it a permissible food for some of the more popular diet programs, but is has less of it, which makes the name SlimCado a suitable description.

Brooks Tropicals has already begun harvesting early varieties and will have promotional volumes beginning in July. The company grows some of what it sells, and it maintains groves for regional growers, but it packs, markets and ships all product. The firm is also unique in how it handles avocados.

"We hydrocool the fruit to the seed as soon as they are picked, " said Ms. Ostlund. "They are shipped hard to ensure good shelf life."

SlimCados are distributed to retailers and wholesales primarily along the East Coast with heavy representation in Florida and the Northeast. They are also shipped into parts of the Midwest.

Ms Ostlund said that this year's crop should see big demand. Several consumer magazines have contacted her expressing editorial interest, which is likely to send consumers hunting for SlimCados at their local supermarkets.