(Aug. 4) HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Brooks Tropicals Inc. has returned to selling limes — its original signature product — and has expanded its papaya imports.

A big player in the lime deal until the turn of the 21st century, when the canker disease wiped out U.S. lime production that had been centered in south Florida, Brooks is now sourcing limes from Mexico.

Brooks, which left the deal in 2005, has a marketing relationship with a grower in the state of Veracruz. The company has sourced from the grower as well as others since 2000, but it only last fall started ramping up more volume from the Veracruz grower, said Mary Ostlund, director of marketing.

“It feels great to have limes after canker,” said Craig Wheeling, chief executive officer. “I grew up growing limes. We are happy to be associated with a quality producer and have limes as part of our line. You have to deliver a high-quality product to really have a presence in the tropical market.”

Citing competitive reasons, Bill Brindle, vice president of sales management, declined to name the lime grower or its acreage.

PAPAYA EXPANSION

To accommodate its expanding Belizean papaya business, Brooks is building new grove offices near Corozal, Belize.

The company, which grows, packs, ships and markets Caribbean red papayas and its smaller Caribbean sunrise solo papayas from 1,500 acres and 65 groves, plans to open the 7,000-square-foot complex in December 2007.

Brooks has increased its papaya sales 20% a year during the past two decades, Brindle said. It sources papaya exclusively from Belize.

The new facility, which Brooks plans to break ground on by the end of August, will contain the latest in computer and communications equipment, Brindle said. The production and packinghouse will have state-of-the-art chemical storage and best management production practices, he said.

“Anytime you can grow it yourself and pack it yourself, you have full control over the product and can bring a better product to the market,” Brindle said.

After 200-300 acres of solo papaya acres come into production, Brooks plans to ship 1 million 8.8- and 10-pound boxes in 2008. The company expects to ship 600,000 boxes this year.

The moves come as Brooks has reconfigured its tropicals business over the past couple of years.

In the past, Brooks sold up to 42 tropical fruits and vegetables grown in Florida and Central America. Today, it offers only half of those items, and it focuses on papayas and avocados, which account for 60% and 25% of sales, respectively.

“Ten years ago, we were trying to be the 7-11 of tropical fruit,” Brindle said. “We decided as a company to cut back a little on our product line and try to be better at what we’re doing rather than be mediocre on many things.”

Brooks Tropicals returns to lime deal
Thailie Purica, quality control manager for Brooks Tropicals Inc., Homestead, Fla., performs brix tests on Brooks' Caribbean red papaya from Belize in mid-July. The company is expanding its sales of papayas.