(April 1, 11:05 a.m.) Demand for ample supplies of high-quality papayas should be strong in April and May, importers said.

At the end of March, Princeton, Fla.-based New Limeco LLC was bringing in six to eight loads of papayas from Guatemala per week, about 20% more than last year at the same time, said Eddie Caram, sales manager.

Caram didn’t anticipate having any problems selling that extra product.

“We’ve seen good demand,” he said. “Papayas seem to be selling more and more. People call it the ‘miracle fruit.’”

Taste, nutritional value — “everything,” in Caram’s opinion — contribute to that lofty designation.

Brooks Tropicals Inc., Homestead, Fla., is celebrating the return of its Caribbean Sunrise papaya acreage, which had been devastated by Hurricane Dean, said Mary Ostlund, director of marketing.

“It had lagged behind after Dean, but it’s coming back,” she said.

Brooks was importing 5,000-6,000 boxes of Sunrises at the end of March, Ostlund said. That should increase to 5,000-10,000 a week by this summer.

The company also imports Caribbean Red papayas, she said. That variety was in a production lull in late March, with volume shipments returning by late April, Ostlund said.

In late March, EcoRipe Tropicals, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., reported strong demand for its solo-variety papayas from Guatemala, because of lower volumes this season, said Marc Holbik, the company’s general manager.

On the larger tainung variety, however, the opposite has been true, Holbik said. Markets for tainungs, which EcoRipe sources from Belize, have been held in check by large supplies of competing maradol-variety papayas from Mexico this season, he said.

By March 31, however, markets were “beginning to recuperate,” he said.

Ostlund reported strong demand in late March.

“It’s steadily increased,” she said. “It’s a fantastic combination of the Food Network and people vacationing in the Caribbean.”

On March 31, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $16-17 for 35-pound cartons of papayas 7-12 from Central America and South America. Prices last year at the same time were $14-18.

Ads for New Limeco’s spring papayas will begin breaking the first week of April, Caram said.

The company is supplementing its year-round Guatemalan deal with a smaller, year-round Belize deal, Caram said. In late March, New Limeco imported about three loads of Belize product a week, he said.

Volumes from both countries were up after the typical January/February lull produced by colder weather in Guatemala and Belize, Caram said.

While quality from Belize was good in early spring, the Guatemalan product was even better, Caram said.

“The quality in the Guatemalan deal is looking fantastic,” he said March 30.

Ostlund also expressed excitement about Brooks’ Belize papayas.

“The quality is excellent — we’re really thrilled,” she said.

Sizes in late March were peaking on 8-12s, Caram said.