South American countries like Colombia and Peru have generated some marketing momentum in the U.S. over the past couple of years, and Central America and the Caribbean are looking to do the same, shippers and marketers of products from the regions say.
The Caribbean and Central America are proving to be a capable complement to South America and Mexico, said Robert Schueller, spokesman for Los Angeles-based specialty shipper World Variety Produce, which markets under the Melissa’s brand.
“Taro, chayote squash, yucca root, snow peas and sugar snap peas out of Guatamala — staple roots and veggies out of the area on a needed basis when other South American countries or Mexico can’t supply good quality product,” Schueller said.
Political instability in Mexico portends a potential gain for Central American and Caribbean growers, said Alvaro Perpuly, owner of Redlands Best Inc., a new company based in Homestead, Fla.
“Everybody knows how much product Mexico supplies to the U.S.,” he said.
If anything happens to interrupt shipments out of Mexico, growers and shippers in Central America and the Caribbean, as well as suppliers in South America, could fill any supply gaps, Perpuly said.
“Whether they’re ready to pick up the volume, that is where the real question comes,” he said.
But the potential is there, Perpuly said.
“It takes time,” he said. “It (requires) a good year for them to plan to create certifications and crops and everything else,” he said.
The only possible hindrance to growth in the Caribbean is its sometimes-capricious weather patterns, Perpuly said.
“The Dominican Republic is in a good position to explode, as well as Guatemala,” he said, noting that the Dominican’s peak growing season coincides with that of southern Mexico.
Lorenz Hartmann de Barros, sales director at Pompano Beach, Fla.-based HLB Specialties LLC, said its shipments out of the Caribbean and Central America have accelerated.
“In certain products, we have doubled. On the other products, it’s hard to gauge,” he said. “We have been growing the last four years in our supply and reach into the markets.”
The growth pattern isn’t new, said Michael Warren, president of Pompano Beach-based Central American Produce Inc.
“I think it’s been going on for eight to 10 years,” he said.
These regions certainly have momentum going now, Warren said.
“It has a real niche for supplying these markets (in the U.S.),” he said.
Shipments out of Central America and the Caribbean are available year-round on some products, but others back away during U.S. production, Warren said.
“We have products that are competing domestically,” he said.
Exotic items out of the regions generate much excitement, said Denisse Serge, co-owner and sales manager at Homestead, Fla.-based Fresh King Inc., which ships a lot of its fruits and vegetables from the Dominican Republic and Guatemala.
“The Dominican Republic is starting to grow a lot of Chinese vegetables and other items,” she said.
As far as mangoes are concerned, the Caribbean and Central America comprise about 7% of imports into the U.S., said Rachel Munoz, marketing director of the National Mango Board, Orlando, Fla.
“Haiti and Guatemala export during the spring and summer seasons; during this time, the mango board has retail promotions in place to help support consumption through retail,” she said.
Karen Caplan, president and CEO of Frieda’s Inc., Los Alamitos, Calif., said her company has seen an increase in supplies out of the Caribbean and Central America.
“It seems many countries are getting behind producers and exporters with their large projects and programs,” Caplan said.