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Miami feels heat of local tropical

It’s no surprise tropicals continue to ride a tidal wave of what’s hot, and rising demand is keeping those who concentrate on the once-lesser known perishables on their toes.

“Overall, tropicals are going from exotic to specialties to mainstream,” says Mary Ostlund, director of marketing for Brooks Tropicals, LLC. “Whether it’s all the Caribbean cruises consumers go on, or the simple desire to eat more fruits and vegetables, tropicals are gaining a foothold on the North American dining room table.”

Better yet for Miami suppliers, some of these new favorites are cultivated in nearby Redland and sold under the popular Redland Raised brand. So locally grown or imported, retailers and restaurant throughout the region have access to an abundance of tropical choices.

Although the Sunshine State’s tropical fruit acreage has ebbed and receded over the past 70 years, the produce category currently occupies close to 13,000 acres, bringing in $100 million each year.

Miami-Dade County boasts the most agriculturally diverse produce region in the country. The Redland locale, named for its deep red soil, is home to time-honored staple crops like green beans and tomatoes but also teems with a rainbow of tropical treats. Most are uniquely delicious fruits, including black and white sapote, atemoya, canistel, and jackfruit.

All continue to delight local retailers and consumers, with many sold under the well-recognized Redland Raised logo, which also appeals to consumers in neighboring states.

According to Jeff Wasielewski, commercial tropical fruit extension agent for the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension in Miami-Dade County, the most popular reigning fresh commodities are still avocados, mangos, lychee, longan, and mamey sapote.

He notes that “pitaya, also called dragon fruit, has seen a surge in popularity over the past five years as well.”

Ostlund adds that Florida starfruit is a chart-topper and local favorite, and considers dragon fruit, passionfruit, and guava as “emerging players.”

Fortunately, Brooks Tropicals grows all three of these fruits locally in Miami-Dade county.

For its part, Ecoripe supplies a number of the aforementioned local standouts in the summer months including dragon fruit, lychee, guava, coconuts, mangos, and starfruit.

Even when the distributor transitions into the fall and winter, when import numbers rise, “We still count on such local staples as boniatos, longan, and specialty eggplants during those months,” says Marc Holbik, president of Ecoripe Tropicals Inc., Miami.

Jalaram Produce, Inc., a local grower of fresh Indian fruits and vegetables, has a 400-acre tract in Homestead. Cruz Castillo, in sales for the company, cites Indian long squash, Chinese okra (produced almost year-round), Indian bitter melon, and snake gourd as among the top sellers from Jalaram’s lineup.

This is an excerpt from the most recent Produce Blueprints quarterly journal. Click here to read the full article.