Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Plantains slow to gain larger market share

Excerpts from The Packer article of 4/28/08
by Jim Offner

Tropical fruit marketers say plantains - known in some circles as "cooking bananas" - still haven't gained much momentum outside their traditional Hispanic markets.

"I don't see plantains as an alternative to bananas, in the traditional sense," said Mary Ostlund, marketing director for Brooks Tropicals, which brings in plantains from Ecuador, Costa Rica and Guatemala. "It's basically a product that the Hispanic markets use."

Plantains have a subtler flavor than bananas, Ostlund said.

Most consumers have stayed loyal to the traditional cavendish banana, she said.

"They know bananas," she said. "But, if you're in the market and plantains is what you know and love, and a lot of people do, they want to see plantains on your shelves."

Brooks tries to keep plantains available year-round, Ostlund said.

"They're seasonal, but we're able to basically smooth out the seasons because we have growers in different areas," she said.

In-store demos provide more value

Excerpts form The Packer article of 4/28/08
by Jim Offner

In the realm of tropical fruit, "value-added" doesn't necessarily have to mean pre-cutting and packaging product.

"With some items, helping consumers learn how to prepare, handle and eat the product is akin to providing extra value to it," said Mary Ostlund, marketing director for Brooks Tropicals.

"Quite honestly, we think one of the best ways to sell papayas is for the store to cut one in half and give samples," Ostlund said. "It's a way of introducing papaya, mangoes and fruit salads."

Brooks Tropicals rebounds from Hurricane Dean

Excerpts from The Packer article of 4/28/08
by Jim Offner

Homestead, Fla.-based Brooks Tropicals says improvements were just about completed at the end of March at its Belize papaya operations, sidetracked only temporarily after a late-summer hurricane left some damage.

Brooks already had been building a new headquarters papaya production facility in Belize when Hurricane Dean blew through the region, said Mary Ostlund, marketing director.

"We've set up new food-safety levels, new processing facilities, replanted trees," Ostlund said.

The company installed a custom-built papaya packing machine at the facility, that will enable Brooks to triple its previous volume, Ostlund said.

The hurricane left minimal damage on the existing buildings, she said.

"We had more than 1,200 employees there before the storm and we're building back up to that."

The new 12,000 square-foot building has office space, break rooms, maintenance space, garages and fertilizer rooms, Ostlund said.

Avocado demand continues to rise

Excerpts from The Packer article of 4/28/08
by Jim Offner

Although Mexico, Chile and California have come to dominate the avocado business in recent years, with year-round production, Florida continues to generate volumes in the 1 million-bushel range each year.

This year, according to the Florida Avocado Administrative Committee, based in Homestead, Fla., production volume for the upcoming season-it generally runs from June through March - is expected to be 1 million 55-pound bushels.

Florida markets a green-skinned fruit with a yellow-green flesh that, it says, is "creamy, with a slightly nutty flavor."

"They're big avocados," said Mary Ostlund, marketing director for Brooks Tropicals. "They're very popular, especially on the East Coast. A lot of people in Hispanic markets know these avocados because they're used to them in their cooking back home."

Brooks markets a Florida-grown variety that has origins in the Caribbean and is shipped under the SlimCado brand, Ostlund said.

"They're grown in South Dade County, which is the only area that commercially grows them in the U.S.," she said. "The Dominican Republic grows them, but shipping these avocados is tough. It really pays to have them in-country, so to speak."

Florida fruit differs from the hass avocados that are associated with California, Chile and Mexico, Ostlund said.

"The hass avocado looks different," she said. "It's bumpier and, as it ripens, it turns dark and is much smaller and has a much larger seed per pound of flesh. The SlimCado keeps its green, even when ripe. You have to squeeze it and it gives as a way of telling you that it's ripe."

Brooks sells about 70% of the avocados grown in the South Dade County region, Ostlund said.

"We either grow these ourselves, or manage the growth of those who grow them," she said. "Or, we pick the ones others grow. You have to meet the rigid guidelines set by the USDA."

Vendors use cross-promotion to boost sales

Excerpts from The Packer article of 4/28/08
by Jim Offner

Tropical-fruit retailers are looking to some well-established ploys to help consumers get some exposure to to products that may not be very familiar to them.

Tropical fruits lend themselves to some creative cross-merchandising ideas, marketing agents say.

"Salsa is one product that can provide a marketing link," said Mary Ostlund, marketing director, Brooks Tropicals.

"I think one of the most exciting areas is salsa, because it's no longer just for tomatoes," Ostlund said. "It's really opened the field for a lot of tropicals."

"That's because salsas can use an array of tropical ingredients," Ostlund said. "Salsa is all about combining fresh ingredients and letting them marinate together. The tropicals' taste that you can add to a salsa is exciting. Tropical fruits particularly can really add some texture to salsa. We're seeing a lot of people using papayas and mangoes in that way."

Ostlund said she was putting together a collection of how-to materials for salsa recipes that make use of tropical ingredients.

"The salsa category has really opened up and we're finding, for cross-promotions, it's really an easy display to put together," she said. "You can even use produce like kumquats but definitely papayas and mangoes."

Marketers suggest summer promotions

Excerpts from The Packer article of 4/28/08
by Jim Offner

Retailers looking to catch the consumer's eye with color, shape and variety would be hard-pressed to find anything better than tropical fruits, according to marketing agents.

"Retailers with eye-catching displays will make more sales," said Mary Ostlund, marketing director for Homestead, Fla.-based Brooks Tropicals.

"Smart retailers are finding what a beautiful display tropical fruit makes," she said. "It can really draw a crowd if you pull together a good-looking display. What could be more exciting than all the tropical colors pulled together in a display?"

The company tries to work with retail clients on display ideas, Ostlund said.

"We talk with our retailers all the time and try to suggest things," she said. "If anybody wants help in that area, we'll be happy to work with them. And the results are always exciting. How many times can you hear compliments on a display in a produce area?"

Shippers predict strong demand for tropical fruit

Excerpts from The Packer article of 4/28/08

by Jim Offner

Summer is approaching, and that means the U.S. market will be flooded with tropical fruit.

"It's important to note, however, that the tropical fruit season transcends the warm-weather months," said Mary Ostlund, marketing director for Homestead, Fla.-based Brooks Tropicals.

"They're basically year-round," Ostlund said. "There are certain seasonal fluctuations, but generally, what we import from the Caribbean is almost year-round."

"Not that the springtime doesn't present certain marketing opportunities," Ostlund noted.

"Quite honestly,I think tropicals are the spring chick: The summer vegetables aren't here yet, but people want or need some refreshing products, and tropicals certainly fill the bill there," she said. "Historically, spring has been a great time for tropical sales."

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

New Lime Ad just in time for Cinco de Mayo

Just in time for Cinco de Mayo, a new ad campaign has come out highlighting a very popular way of using Brooks Tropicals' limes.
The ad ran in this week's Produce News and The Packer.

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 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."

Salsa Adds Zing to Foodservice

Excerpts from a Produce Business article on Foodservice marketing 4/08

Wild or mild, salsa is hot. No longer merely a dip for chips, America's No. 1 condiment is popping up on restaurant tables.

Some foodservice operators are blending unusual ingredient with traditional tomatoes, while others are replacing tomatoes entirely, using other fruit or vegetables as the prime ingredient.

"Salsas has gone beyond the tomato," reports Mary Ostlund, director of marketing, Brooks Tropicals, Homestead, FL. "Salsa is being redefined." For a very subtle yet complex taste, she recommends replacing tomatoes with papayas. "Papayas add the taste of the tropics to a salsa. This fruit goes well and marinates well with other ingredients, particularly limes."

While Brooks doesn't process its fruits and vegetables, Ostlund states, "We work closely with our customers to include tropicals whenever possible. You can be very ambitious and adventurous with salsa. They're so easy to do, and so hard to go wrong."

For intriguing contrasts of flavor and texture, Ostlund suggests steamed artichokes with marmalade-thick avocado salsa peppered with bits of celery.

"One more ingredient that makes a great salsa is starfruit," she explains, recalling a restaurant in Belize where the chef mixed starfruit with papayas, green peppers, vinegar and oil to make a salsa with the consistency of salad dressing. "It was delicious over the grouper."

"Think of salsa as a medley between different fruits and vegetables."

Monday, April 14, 2008

Caribbean Red Papaya on 60 Minutes

Last night on the CBS show 60 Minutes, Andy Rooney visited the produce section of a Fairway Supermarket in New York City. One of the fruits he talks about is our Caribbean Red Papaya.

To view the entire segment, click here

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

New Belize Headquarters Furniture Ready to be Shipped

As the new Belize headquarters building nears completion, desks, chairs, cabinets and other office necessities start arriving at the Homestead non-fruit purchasing warehouse.

These photos are only showing a fraction of the office furniture and equipment. A trailer parked on the property is holding the remainder of the 297 boxes.

Jorge Jimenez and Michael Sanchez, both in charge of Belize receiving, have their hands and their warehouse full.

Monday, April 7, 2008

"We're Back!" Marketing Campaign

As an advertising backup for the press release, Brooks is using a beach scene with the words "We're Back!" written in the sand with a Caribbean Red papaya and a Caribbean Sunrise papaya poised above it.

This ad will be running in trade publications: The Packer, Produce News, Produce Business and Produce Merchandising.

Along with this ad, Brooks Tropicals' web site and weekly Market Update are updated with the new look.
Email signatures will also be updated for sales. An email signature is placed on the bottom of all outgoing emails. See below.

Press Release - Caribbean Red Papayas Are Back!

HOMESTEAD, FL ─ April 7, 2008
Brooks Tropicals is nearing pre-hurricane volumes of its Caribbean Red papayas.

“We’re back,” said Craig Wheeling CEO, Brooks Tropicals, LLC. “And back with a great Caribbean Red papaya program.”

“Delivering a quality papaya consistently is what customers expect from Brooks” said Vice President of Sales and Marketing Bill Brindle. “Vertical integration from our fields to your retail distribution centers allows for maximum quality control.”

Right after Dean – a Category 5 hurricane – the company not only told its customers that it was committed to coming back, but that it was coming back even stronger. As the largest importer of papayas in the North American market before the storm, this customer commitment entailed more than just replanting fields and repairing storm damaged buildings.

Brooks used the downtime to improve systems and infrastructure. As Caribbean Red papaya monthly volumes steadily climbed back up, new buildings were being built, new machinery was being installed, and new levels of food safety standards were being reached. Even the work of replanting the papaya fields took on new significance as a new stock of seedlings – backed by five years of research and development – was put into the ground for the first time.

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

“The timing could not be better,” said 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; Caribbean Red papayas do just that.”

Historically, this time of year has been great for papaya sales. By the end of 2008 Brooks Tropicals may be making a little history of its own; end-of-year harvesting forecasts show weekly papaya volumes will be higher than ever.

Take that Hurricane Dean!

Central American papaya shipments poised to rise

Online article in The Packer By Doug Ohlemeier

After years of smaller Central American volumes, papaya importers are preparing for larger shipments.The return of papaya shipments should mean an end to the deal’s higher-than-normal prices, shippers said. Volumes are forecast to increase significantly from Central American production regions as groves rebound from Hurricane Dean’s devastation last fall.

Brooks Tropicals Inc., Homestead, Fla., one of North America’s largest papaya growers and importers, plans to return to full production in July after being out of production the first three months of this year.

“We’re all real excited to be back in business,” said Bill Brindle, vice president of sales management. “August was our last period of normalcy. We have a number of key retail partners that tried to switch over to a maradol papaya while we were out of business, but it just didn’t work for them.” Brindle said many retailers told them they hadn’t been able to find quality papayas since the hurricane.Papaya shipments generally remain consistent throughout the year.

Though some months may see lower production, volumes normally increase in May and June, said Zevy Mashav, manager of Miami-based tropical broker and importer Caribbean Gold Inc.“Right now, everyone wants papayas, but not too many people have them,” he said. “The demand is always good, but supply isn’t always good.”

Brooks’ papaya production was 5% to 12% of normal volumes in January and February, and the company expects to hit about 73% of normal in May before exceeding 100% in July.For the 12-month period beginning in July, Brooks expects to ship 2.2 million 32-pound cartons, Brindle said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture April 1 reported 30- to 35-pound cartons from Belize and Guatemala selling for $16-18 for 7s and 11s, $17-18 for 8-10s, and $14-16 for 12s. The USDA in 2007 didn’t report Belize spring papaya prices. For Mexican product, 35- to 40-pound boxes of 10-count maradols crossing in Texas in early April sold for $16-18.35, according to the USDA. That compares to last year when the same packs sold for $12-13 in late March and in late April.

The smaller Brazilian papayas in 7.7- to 10-pound cartons normally sell for $9-10, said Andres Ocampo, director of operations for HLB Tropical Food USA Inc., Plantation, Fla. A severe drought has harmed Brazilian production and buyers shouldn’t expect strong movement until May, he said.“Come June and July, expect increases in volume so there will be opportunities to do promotions with decent volumes from those months,” Ocampo said. “The third quarter of the year will be good for us, in terms of volumes, to develop programs for retail promotions.”Ocampo said he expects volume to increase by 20% to 25% this summer.

More papayas have been arriving from Central America, Mashav said, because Brazilian growers have been sending their product via more costly airfreight. The growers chose air, he said, because the product’s shelf life can’t withstand the three weeks required from packing, loading, shipment and unloading via boat. The air shipments, Mashav said, have made for fewer quantities and higher prices.

The biggest problem Brazilian growers are facing, Ocampo said, involves the weakened U.S. dollar. Growers, he said, need more money to cover their production costs. The weak dollar has depreciated against the Brazilian real from an exchange rate of about 3.13 real per dollar in June 2004 to 1.70 real per dollar today, Ocampo said. HLB represents Caliman Agricola SA, Brazil's biggest papaya producer. Brazilian papayas shipped to the U.S. originate in the Espirito Santo and Bahia and Rio Grande do Norte regions.