The Papaya industry is reeling from a series of setbacks, the latest of which is unusually bad weather in the major producing countries of Brazil and Mexico.
U.S. importer and distributor World Variety Produce estimates papayas from Brazil are 30% lower this month than normal due to unusually wet weather, while Mexico has been hit by frosts which has impaired production.
The company’s communications director Robert Schueller told www.freshfruitportal.com the wholesale price for a 32lbs box is currently around US$30-32 compared with the normal price of US$22-25.
“The weather has wreaked havoc on the papaya industry in Mexico and Brazil. Our retailers are scared. They don’t want to pay the scary prices,” he said.
Florida-based HLB Specialities, which supplies the U.S. and Canada, agreed there was a major shortage.
The importer’s international operations executive Lorenz Hartmann de Barros, said the rain had affected the flowering of Brazil’s papayas in Espírito Santo state in the southeast of the country.
“Right now we are struggling with a shortage – we are hoping April will be better because there will be new crops and areas coming on stream,” he said.
Schueller argues that with such high prices the consumers and retailers will simply switch to mangoes given that the industry is in full production swing at the moment.
“April is the peak month for mangoes. If there are more mangoes and they are cheaper then retailers and consumers will buy them.”
Calavo Growers Inc, who source Rainbow papayas exclusively from Hawaii, concurred there had been a rise in price for their 10lbs boxes.
Papaya commodity manager Steve Hayworth said Calavo had also seen a shortage but was not so affected because it was in a different market, mainly supplying the U.S Asian community.
Last July the Mexican papaya industry, which produces larger varieties such as the Maradol and Tainung, was severely hit by a salmonella outbreak in 23 U.S. states thought to be caused by unsanitary water conditions in the treatment process.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration asked for all papayas from Texan-based distributor Agromod Produce to be recalled.
Following the incident the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) insisted on laboratory testing of all papaya shipments from Mexico before allowing their release.
The USDA is still checking imports but major Mexican exporters who have a track record of five clear shipments are now tested on a sample basis, with the process just taking a few days to clear.
Both World Variety Produce and HLB Specialities estimate U.S. imports from Mexico have climbed back to just over 50% but they are still not at the level prior to salmonella outbreak of 70-80%.
The incident has led to increased sourcing from other countries such as Belize, which grows the Red Caribbean, and Guatemala which produces the Maradol and Tainung cultivars.
“There are some clients who are still paranoid because of the scare, although most retailers say ‘I am OK with Mexico if you follow all the prodcedures’,” said Hartmann de Barros.
“It has improved significantly but it’s not recovered in terms of volume. The market hasn’t re-bounded but its solidfied. Every month it’s getting better and better.”
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