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HLB Specialties using Viva Fresh to support growth

By
John Groh

Specialty produce distributor HLB Specialties will be exhibiting at the 2024 Viva Fresh Expo in Houston, marking its second year of participation as an exhibitor. It plans to utilize its time there to network with existing growing partners and to seek out potential new relationships to support its growth as a company.

Andres Ocampo
Andres Ocampo

“We are definitely in a growth mode,” said Melissa Hartmann de Barros, director of communications for the Fort Lauderdale, FL-based company. “In fact, we have been in a growth mode for the last four years, adding to all aspects of our business, including our product line, packaging options and staff.”

Hartmann de Barros said Viva Fresh has become an increasingly important show for HLB, given the heavy presence of the Mexican produce community and the fact that much of what HLB sources is from Mexico. Among the main Mexican-grown items it handles are dragon fruit, lychee, papaya, guava, rambutan and mangosteen.

She added that HLB recently earned organic certification, “and we are extremely proud of that, as it is not easy to achieve.”

Among the organic items HLB offers are yellow dragon fruit, dragon fruit, ginger and papaya, the latter being a longtime core item for the company.

“In fact, we were the first to carry organic large papaya on a consistent basis beginning 10 years ago,” she said. “Papaya can be a difficult crop to raise, as every year is a little different depending on the weather patterns. But we are definitely a leader in organic papayas.”

Hartmann de Barros said HLB’s long-established company motto is “Sweetening the World Since 1989,” but her brother, Lorenz Hartmann de Barros, who runs the company’s European division based in Germany, coined an unofficial motto that drives the company today: “We Specialize in Flavor.”

She explained that a lot goes into the focus on flavor, starting with choosing the right growing partners to navigating challenges in logistics to using the proper packaging to optimize shelf life to educating retail partners and consumers alike on proper storage and usage.

“Our CEO, Andres Ocampo, travels frequently to check on the progress of the crops so we can be sure about the quality and to seek out opportunities with new growing partners,” she said. “In fact, he has already been to four different countries in 2024.”

She added that logistics are an increasingly important part of the business, and HLB makes it a point to keep current on all aspects of the logistics side of things.

“We try to solve our clients’ problems if they arise, and even prevent them before they happen by taking care of all logistics for their shipments,” said Hartmann de Barros. “We’ve been doing that for more than 35 years in Europe and ever since we started our U.S. division. That’s one of the big advantages we offer and one of the main reasons we have so many longtime clients, because we know that our business is always a race against that clock.”

Packaging is another factor to consider when trying to deliver product that is at the peak of flavor. Hartmann de Barros said HLB is constantly testing different packaging options with the goal of finding the right one to maximize shelf life. She added that sustainability is a main consideration for HLB given the emphasis placed upon it by its retail clients.

The final part of the flavor equation is educating retail clients and consumers about best storage, handling and usage for its items. Simply put, if consumers have a good eating experience they are more likely to become repeat purchasers.

“We’ve learned that there still is a large gap in consumers’ product knowledge, and so we have been working on adding more content to our website to better educate them,” she said. “We recently added a specific landing page for guava because people in the U.S. are not as familiar with it as people in Latin America and they don’t know, for example, that the seeds are very hard, so we recommend swallowing them whole or straining them when juicing.”

John Groh

John Groh

About John Groh  |  email

John Groh graduated from the University of San Diego in 1989 with a bachelors of arts degree in English. Following a brief stint as a sportswriter covering the New York Giants football team, he joined The Produce News in 1995 as an assistant editor and worked his way up the ranks, becoming publisher in 2006. He and his wife, Mary Anne, live in northern New Jersey in the suburbs of New York City.

 

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