HLB Specialties looks to better serve customers as one-stop tropical shop
With distribution facilities located throughout the United States and multiple offshore sourcing regions, HLB Specialties is able to provide its customers with reliable supplies of tropical produce items throughout the year.
Lorenz Hartmann de Barros, director of sales for the Pompano Beach, FL-based importer-distributor of tropical and speciality produce, said that while papayas are the firm’s signature item, it has branched out in recent years with increased volumes of mangos, limes and avocados, as well as a small but robust rambutan program.
“We bring in the large papaya variety, the Formosa, from both Guatemala and Mexico,” said Mr. Hartmann de Barros. “We work with four growers, which gives us plenty of supply to keep our customers fully stocked.”
To further service its customers, HLB has ripening facilities in both Pompano Beach and Pharr, TX.
“We started a ripening program where we are separating and shipping the right colors so we can give customers high color or green fruit, depending on their needs,” he said.
Mr. Hartmann de Barros said that educating consumers about papayas is an important way to increase sales.
“Since both the Formosa and the Maradol are large papaya varieties that carry the same PLU code, people often compare them side by side, and that is not a fair comparison,” he said. “Formosa is a much sweeter piece of fruit that can be eaten when it is between half-color and full-color of ripeness, while the Maradol needs to be 100 percent yellow before it is ready to eat. Also, the Maradol has a distinct odor that some people do not like, while the Formosa does not have that odor.”
In addition to papayas, HLB offers customers year-round sourcing of mangos from all the major growing areas. Currently, fruit is coming from Peru. The deal will move to Guatemala next followed by Mexico, Brazil and Ecuador.
Regarding limes, HLB sources from Guatemala year round. Mr. Hartmann de Barros said that while the Central American country is a lesser-known lime producer than Mexico, he said that Guatemalan limes have a higher juice content since water in that country is much more abundant.
“The area in Guatemala where limes are grown is near a rainforest, so they are very juicy,” he said. “We are thinking about creating a ‘rainforest’ label for our limes when we come out with our own box.”
For avocados, HLB sources year round from Mexico and is looking to increase its volume in the next few years.
“We have a steady retail program on bags, but we want to ramp that up,” said Mr. Hartmann de Barros. “We will do that gradually as our reputation becomes more known.”
Acknowledging that it can be daunting to compete against the big avocado players in the industry, he said that the advantage HLB can offer over larger houses is a customized program that provides the freshest fruit.
“We typically have a standing order with our customers where they tell us what size and pack they want, and then we crop it, pack it and ship it so it arrives super fresh,” he said. “They are not getting fruit that is already in the packinghouse waiting to be sold.”
He said that HLB offers both organic and conventional avocados, which are packed in its own “HLB” label. Avocados are brought into McAllen, TX, and distributed nationwide.
HLB’s rambutan program is entering its second year in 2013, and Mr. Hartmann de Barros said that he is looking to build on a successful first effort last year.
“The challenge with rambutan is that the shelf life is very short, about a week or two, so it needs to move quickly,” he said. “Retail demos have been effective in helping move the fruit, and we worked successfully with a leading natural foods retailer last year and hope to have them carry our rambutans again this year.”
HLB offers rambutans in a variety of clamshell packs. For retailers that do not have a large clientele for the fruit, a box of eight four-ounce clamshells (four pieces of fruit) is available.
For stores that want a bigger rambutan inventory, HLB offers a box of eight one-pound clamshells (16 pieces per clamshell). A bulk box with five pounds of fruit is also available and is typically favored by Asian markets, Mr. Hartmann de Barros said.
By offering fruit from various sources and with distribution centers in Pompano Beach, FL, McAllen, TX, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle, Mr. Hartmann de Barros said that HLB serves as a one-stop shop for tropical and specialty items.
“Our goal is to have the retailer put all their eggs in our multiple baskets,” he said. “We are trying to assume the risk from the retailer of providing fruit on a year-round basis.”
HLB Specialties will exhibit at the Fresh Produce & Floral Council’s Northern California Expo April 10 in Pleasanton, CA. For more information on HLB’s products and availability, visit www.hlbspec.com.