As papayas see strong growth, suppliers are expanding varieties, sourcing and marketing strategies.
“The papaya category has seen tremendous growth as a tropical fruit — double-digit growth over the last few years,” said Robert Schueller, director of public relations for World Variety Produce, Los Angeles, citing their antioxidant qualities and unique flavor profile.
Schueller said World Variety imports large and medium-sized red caribbean papayas from Belize, a smaller variety than the maridols.
“They are absolutely delicious,” he said. “They are somewhat newer to the marketplace with limited distribution into the Southeast area of the U.S. but an exciting variety that we’ll see this summer as well.”
Schueller explained larger maridols are not as sweet, are often used for cooking and they are a staple for Mexican-Americans.
He also likened the red caribbean papayas’ medium-large shape to the more common strawberry papaya from Brazil, which has seen the most growth in the U.S.
There is also a rainbow variety out of Hawaii, but logistical issues of the fruit ripening too fast have prevented it from commercial viability, whereas the Brazilian strawberry variety is consistent and available year-round.
“There have been tremendous gains in the papaya category that have made it an exciting category here in the United States,” he added.
“People aren’t papaya virgins anymore,” said Mary Ostlund, marketing director of Brooks Tropicals Inc., Homestead, Fla. “They’ve tried it, they like it.”
Ostlund said now cruise lines are offering 24-hour food and a nice environment for Americans to try the fruit.
Ostlund said hotels and cruise ships are offering more local cuisine instead of Americanized foods, and that has been a driver of papaya demand.
Charlie Eagle, vice president of business development for Southern Specialties Inc., Pompano Beach, Fla., also sees a strong future for papayas.
“We feel that it’s a significant market with a robust future,” he said. “For us, it’s not a mature market, so we haven’t been in it that long and our customer base on those products is growing.
Eagle said interest has been growing more than in past years.
Ostlund said Brooks finds papayas are growing in popularity in the Canadian marketplace.
“The caribbean red is very popular up there,” she said. “It’s not only popular in large metropolitan areas, but even the smaller stores and less urban locations are picking it up. It has wide appeal.”
Doria Potts-Blonder, sales and marketing director of New Limeco LLC, Princeton, Fla., said part of the appeal is the health benefits, especially for digestion.
“They are very good for digestion so a lot of people are eating them for it,” she said. “They are also a great meat tenderizer, so people are trying them for that, they’re not just for the Latin community.”
Potts-Blonder said with a variety of uses, papayas are good for breakfast or as a dessert, and they provide excellent value.
“I think it’s a fair price for the size of the fruit that you’re getting,” she said.
Ostlund said on Brooks’ 1,400 acres in Belize papaya plantings are done monthly because of the relatively short productive life of the tree of only 24 months.