A wintertime display of vibrantly colored, fresh papayas can brighten a shopper’s day and inspire thoughts of warm, sunny days or lush tropical isles.

Any time is a good time to sell tropical fruit, but a display of ripe papayas provides a psychological lift for shoppers on a gloomy winter day, says Eric Crawford, president of Fresh Results LLC, Sunrise, Fla. The company sources tainung papayas — also known as formosa papayas — from Belize, and it plans to begin offering maradol papayas from Mexico this spring.

Papaya powerAlthough papayas are available year-round, January is a good time to promote them as production increases, says Melissa Hartmann de Barros, director of communications for HLB Specialties LLC, Pompano Beach, Fla. HLB handles tainung papayas and golden, or solo, papayas. It sources golden papayas from Brazil and Jamaica, and tainungs from Mexico and Guatemala.


Teach your shoppers

Many consumers in the U.S. think all papayas taste the same, but retailers could increase sales by teaching them about different varieties. Shippers recommend using in-store demonstrations.

“People need to know that if you don’t like one variety, it doesn’t mean you don’t like them all,” Crawford says.

The Mexican maradol has a strong, distinctive flavor that is popular in Latino markets, Crawford says.

“Take a Mexican maradol out of the Latino demographic and try to market it among a different group of consumers, and they likely won’t like the flavor,” Crawford says. “But if you take a Belizean tainung and sample those (with the same group of consumers), they’ll be amazed at how much they like the flavor.”

Hartmann de Barros says mainstream shoppers like tainungs because of their sweet flavor, mild aroma and uniform shape.

Crawford agrees.

“It’s amazing to me how many people say they don’t like (papayas), but when they sample a tainung, they say, ‘They’re fantastic; I love them,’” he says.

Demonstrations also teach consumers how to choose ripe papayas. Tainungs can be ripe and ready to eat when their exteriors are green. Maradols, however, are ripe only when there’s a yellow or orange blush on the exterior.

Brooks Tropicals Inc., Homestead, Fla., ships its Caribbean Red papayas from Belize and solo papayas from Brazil, says Mary Ostlund, director of marketing. A Caribbean Red papaya is ready to eat when the fruit gives slightly and when the skin is at least 50% yellow, Ostlund says.

Demonstrations are good opportunities to show new uses for papayas. Consumers like to learn how to use papayas in any type of meal and in any course, Ostlund says.

Besides the typical uses in fruit salads and smoothies, papayas pair well with asparagus, cucumber and broccoli, Ostlund says. Brooks’ website, brookstropicals.com, features many recipes, including papaya and olive relish, and papaya mashed potatoes. HLB’s website, hlbspecialties.com, lists recipes too, including papaya and crab salad, and papaya quesadillas.

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While shoppers sample fresh papaya and new recipes, retailers can educate them about the fruit’s nutritional content.

“Papaya is one of the healthiest fruits in the world,” Hartmann de Barros says.

A small raw papaya contains 95.6 milligrams of vitamin C, which is more than the recommended dietary allowance for adults, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Nutrient Data Laboratory reports. Hartmann de Barros says papayas are especially for good sources of vitamin C for young children or other consumers who cannot tolerate the acidity of citrus.

Papayas contain an enzyme called papain, which digests proteins. The enzyme makes papaya a good ingredient for meat marinades. Papain also is used in medications, including digestive aids and anti-inflammatories.

Red-fleshed papayas have the added benefit of containing carotenoids, including lutein and lycopene.


Handle with care

Papayas require special handling.

“If you don’t do the proper techniques, you’ll have no shelf life at all,” Crawford says.

On the other hand, retailers who pay attention to the category and handle fruit properly are likely to generate revenue, he says.

“This is a category that has a huge amount of potential and needs to have more attention and resources devoted to it,” Crawford says.

Hartmann de Barros says maintaining the proper temperature is paramount. Papayas should be kept no colder than 45 F (7.2 C), she says. Papayas that are kept too cool have “dramatically reduced” shelf lives, Crawford says. He recommends 50 F (10 C). When papayas get too cold, they suffer from discoloration, freezer burn or cell damage.

If it is necessary to transport papayas at colder temperatures, Hartmann de Barros recommends protecting pallets with blankets or stowing them in an area of the truck that is away from blowers.

Papayas are delicate. When testing for ripeness, pressure should be gently applied with a cupped hand, not just with the thumb, Hartmann de Barros says.


Build it large

Hartmann de Barros says retailers could sell many more papayas if they built larger displays and promoted the fruit.

“When we do tastings, we do a big display,” she says. “It has a big impact and increases sales.”

Carefully stack papayas with their necks pointed inward, Ostlund says. Because their skins are soft, papayas should not be placed directly on textured surfaces. They also should not be misted, she says.

Ostlund recommends cross-merchandising papayas in a salsa-themed display with limes, avocados, tomatoes, mangoes, uniq fruit and other items. She also recommends offering samples of salsas.

Half a papaya filled with blueberries, strawberries or diced fruit presents shoppers with a healthful breakfast or snack idea, Ostlund says. She recommends halving or dicing papayas that have ripened beyond 90%. They might no longer be attractive whole, but they can still be delicious.

Because some consumers like to drizzle lime juice on their papayas, Hartmann de Barros and Ostlund recommend displaying the fruits together. Hartmann de Barros suggests cutting a papaya in half, wrapping it with a lime in cellophane, and selling it as a ready-to-eat snack. Ostlund says a black foam tray makes for a good color contrast with the papaya and lime.

“Tropical colors brighten any winter dreary day,” Ostlund says. “Have fun with Caribbean displays that promote the fresh produce coming in — as well as the Caribbean itself.”