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"Interest is exploding"
Clamshells drive US rambutan consumption
“For the first time, we are sourcing rambutans out of Honduras this year,” says Andres Ocampo with HLB Specialties. “This allows us to extend our season by two months.” Until this year, HLB Specialties sourced its rambutans from Guatemala, a season that runs from May until November. “However, by popular demand, we have extended our pool of suppliers and purchase from Honduras between October and January, maybe into February.” Most customers prefer availability of the product for a longer time frame.
“Our supplier from Guatemala is a pioneer in the industry,” shared Ocampo. “We have a very strong partnership with our grower and supplies are consistent and reliable as the grower rotates the rambutan crop between different regions.” Production out of Honduras started two weeks ago and the country continues through December. Harvest could continue into January and February, depending on the weather. “It is still a few months away, but it looks like this year’s harvest will continue through January.”
Kid’s character on packaging
HLB Specialties package rambutans in clamshells to make it easier for display and to provide customer information. “With bulk items you lose the ability to provide customer information,” mentioned Ocampo. “Since people don’t know what to expect when they eat the fruit for the first time, we want to educate them on how to eat it. We also developed a character that appeals to kids,” said Ocampo. Children are more eager to try something new than adults and when they feel a connection, they can convince their parents to purchase the item.
Clamshells open up new markets
Although the majority of rambutans are still sold in bulk, Ocampo sees a shift towards clamshells. Clamshells are turning the corner as they open up new markets. In the past, the item was available in bulk in ethnic stores only, but increasingly rambutans are makinge their way into mainstream grocery stores, reaching a different customer profile. “The interest in rambutans is really exploding,” said Ocampo. “Just this week, we are delivering 10,000 cases to over 2,000 stores in the Midwest, East Coast and South. We sell to four retail chains directly and it’s going extremely well.”
HLB’s rambutans come in 12 oz. clamshells. “We feel that’s the best size where the package is still affordable.” Next season, HLB Specialties wants to offer its rambutans in more size options. “We just had some preliminary meetings and have seen some samples, but we are going to wait until May 2017, when Guatemala’s new harvest starts,” concluded Ocampo.
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