Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Brooks Tropicals welcomes papayas back with open arms

article from The Produce News of April 7th 2008
by Christina DiMartino

Eight months after a Category 5 hurricane devastated its papaya groves in Belize, Brooks Tropicals is gearing up for the return of the fruit to its product line.
"Brooks Tropicals is very close to making a big splash back into the market with Caribbean Red papayas, " said Mary Ostlund, director of marketing for the Homestead, FL-based major tropical fruit grower and shipper. "Our papaya groves in Belize were badly damaged by Hurricane Dean's winds and rain last summer, and since August, papayas from there have been out of the market. But we have been working volumes back up, and we're ready to market."

Ms. Ostlund noted that the thin-trunk papaya trees are very top heavy due to the large fruit. Subjected to a hurricane-strength winds, the tops literally snap off. New seedling development, and a lot of corporate foresight, helped Brooks Tropicals re-enter the market quickly.

"Progress has been ongoing on new seedlings for the past five years," said Ms. Ostlund. "We brought all the seedlings indoors during the storm, then brought them back out and planted them after Dean passed. Papaya trees can produce within six months. Dean was in August and here we are, back in full swing".

The Maradol-like Caribbean Red papayas, which were developed by Brooks Tropicals, are the large-size variety of the fruit. Ms Ostlund said that, "they deliver the best fruit and longer shelf life than others, and they are highly disease- and insect-resistant."

"Just cut one open and compare it to other papayas, and you'll see the wall of meat is larger and more noticeable," she said. "The Brix is high, so the fruit is sweet and delectable. We are relaunching the program now, and at consistent volumes that customers can depend on."

The entire team at Brooks Tropicals is excited about the return of the papaya program.

"We're back," said Craig Wheeling, CEO of Brooks Tropicals.

"Delivering a quality papaya consistently is what customers expect from Brooks," added Bill Brindle, VP of sales and marketing. "Vertical integration from our fields to retail distribution centers allows for maximum quality control."

Following Hurricane Dean, the company told its customers it was committed to bringing its papaya program back - and even stronger. As the largest importer of papayas in the North American market before the storm, its commitment to customers entailed more than just replanting fields and repairing storm-damaged building. Brooks used the down time to improve its systems and infrastructure.

As Caribbean Red papaya volumes steadily climbed, new buildings were being built, new machinery was being installed and new levels of food safety standards were reached.

"The hurricane gave us a chance to get the new seedlings in the ground ahead of schedule," said Mr. Wheeling. "The solid columns of beautiful fruit we're picking are proof-positive that these plants were ready."

"The timing could not be better," added Mr. Brindle. "Spring is a great time to make an entry back into the market. Retailers are looking for 'springtime' produce that will excite shoppers and Caribbean Red papayas do just that."

Historically, spring has been a great time of year for papaya sales. By the end of 2008, Brooks Tropicals may be making a little more history. End-of-year harvesting forecasts show that weekly papaya volumes from the company will be higher than ever.

Brooks Tropicals also grows and markets the Caribbean Sunrise papaya, which Ms. Ostlund said is still revving up in production and is expected to follow just a little behind the Caribbean Red.

"There is more acceptance in the U.S. market for papayas today than ever," said Ms. Ostlund. "And the fruit is gaining additional attention through haircare products that promote papaya as a major ingredient. The current 'papaya dance' craze is also bringing strong attention to the fruit. Major television shows, including "Good Morning America," have featured the dance. Just go to YouTube.com to see the major and widespread coverage that the papaya is getting today, and at the same time you can learn the dance steps."

"Take that Hurricane Dean!" she added. "We're back and we're reclaiming our shelf space."