Friday, April 3, 2009

Brooks Tropicals: Tropical category offers great value for consumers

Excerpts taken from a Produce News article of 3/30/09 written by Christina DiMartino

“Buyers everywhere know consumers are focused on their spending dollars, so they want produce that provides the biggest bang for the buck,” said Mary Ostlund, director of marketing for Brooks Tropicals in Homestead, FL. “Tropical fruits and vegetables are fantastic bargains. They give people lots of fruit to chop up into salads, for snacks or in fruit plates, and provide a feeling of luxury.”

Ms. Ostlund used Brooks Tropicals’ Caribbean Red papayas as a good example. Recently, a group representing a Canadian client was at the company’s facility. She sliced up three papayas and filled 13, 8-oz cups to serve the guests.

“That’s why people in Spanish-speaking countries refer to papayas as fruta bomba, meaning ‘fruit bomb,’ “she said. “Fruta Bomba is also the name of our production subsidiary in Belize” in Central America.

Brooks Tropicals has a highly specialized way of producing papaya in order to service its customers efficiently.

“We are truly vertically integrated because we grow over 70 percent of what we sell,” Ms. Ostlund said. “We work four to six weeks in advance with our customers. On the production end, we plan harvesting to meet schedules. That’s not easy because when papayas rare ready to be picked, you have to pick them. Brooks Tropicals plants trees based on projected forecasts from customers. This way we can work with them on promotions and advertisements. In some cases we work with them a year in advance.”

Brooks Tropicals plants papaya trees every month. The trees begin turning out fruit in as short a time as seven months, but they produce for only about 18 months.

“If we were a normal grower, we would probably plant during the optimum season,” said Ms. Ostlund. “But if we did we’d have peaks and valleys in supplies. Our customers want steady volumes, and our integration process ensures they have it.”

The season for Brooks Tropicals’ “SlimCado” avocados comes to a close in March, but movement revs up again in May with commercial volumes coming on board in June and July with the season continuing until the following February or March.

Ms. Ostlund noted that past season was a good one for the company’s SlimCado. The brand is important because if affirms that the product has 50 percent less fat and a third fewer calories than other avocado varieties.

“Samples are taken weekly to ensure a SlimCado is a SlimCado,” said Ms. Ostlund. “Doctors say people should not eat more than 70 fat calories per day. Although avocados contain monounsaturated fat – the heart-healthy fat – it’s not a free-for-all relative to weight control. The SlimCado gives people a lot more.”

Vertical integration extends to Brooks Tropicals’ SlimCado crop, but differently because trees can produce for 15-20 years. Brooks coordinates its farm group’s harvesting schedule with its sales tem to ensure supplies and sizes are consistent throughout the season.

“When working with independent growers, you have to deal with whatever comes in the door,” said Ms. Ostlund. “We provide consistently sized pieces in the volumes desired so grocers don’t want to weigh every piece of product they sell.”

Starfruit movement ended in February for the season, but begins again in June. Ms. Ostlund said demand increases steadily. Starfruit enjoyed an extra bump during the past season because of the election.

“During such times, people look for ways to dress up beverages and dishes, and starfruit makes a great presentation,” she said. “There are strong initiatives across the nation to get children to eat more fruit, and some school systems are using starfruit in snack programs.”

Brooks Tropicals is also tightly integrated with its lime produced in Mexico. Ms. Ostlund said the limes are looking very good, noting that the Canadian group there recently commented on how much they like the company’s limes.

“We’re in season now with Uniq Fruit,” she added. “Its appearance reminds people of grapefruit, but is milder. It’s a delicious and fun fruit to peel and eat, and it’s a great item for retailers to sample.”