Talking tropicals with E. Armata at Hunts Point Produce Market

Talking tropicals with E. Armata at Hunts Point Produce Market

NEW YORK CITY — In the New York tristate area, the Latin American market is booming, and E. Armata Fruit & Produce Inc. had to meet that demand, said several members of the company during an early morning chat with The Packer at Hunts Point Produce Market in the Bronx.

That’s why the produce broker-shipper-distributor decided to develop a tropical department, led by a Pedro Orama, who worked on the grower side in Costa Rica before transitioning to the terminal market.

His experience with farms in the Central and South Americas helps.

“When you pick it from the soil, that’s where you get the quality. Our job is to maintain that and transfer it,” Orama said. “The response has been good.”

No wonder E. Armata’s customers were asking for tropical produce, considering the urban area’s demographics.

Hispanics and Latinos make up 27.5% of the New York City population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, last conducted in 2009. This demographic is, according to size, primarily Puerto Rican, Mexican, Cuban and other Hispanic/Latino people.

Hispanics constituted 18.1% of the nation’s total population in 2017, according to the Census Bureau’s 2018 Hispanic Heritage Month news release. And the bureau estimated in 2015 that the nation’s population will be 28.6% Hispanic by 2060.

Orama has been building the full line of tropical produce since starting two years ago, reaching about 30 items regularly available from about 25 consistent suppliers in the program today, with a goal of 80 items.

The most popular items are plantains and yuca, he said.

Also called cassava, yuca is a starchy root vegetable with a relatively long shelf life of about two months.

The tricky part is handling the produce that has a five-day shelf life, like passionfruit, Orama said. The company has a warehouse in one part of Hunts Point Produce Market, and its sales offices, showroom and cold-storage warehouse with loading and unloading docks are in another part of the property. 

“Every product we carry is stored in the correct temperature-controlled environment and has complete traceability until the last box is sold,” said Nick Armata, assistant buyer of western vegetables and great-grandson of the company’s founder, Erasmo Armata.

Orama is helping build his section of the company website, earmata.com, to educate customers, and sometimes salespeople, about the produce. Snap a cell phone onto the QR code on his business card, and you’ll see Orama’s photo, contact information and photos of the available tropical produce, such as: chayote, taro root, batata, calabaza, coco malanga, name espino and yautia.

“My idea is, behind each picture, to put nutrient information and a recipe,” Orama said. That information will help sellers and buyers figure out how to market and merchandise the product.

The company is also expanding its specialties, berries and Eastern items programs, said Michael Armata, who focuses on berries, among other tasks, and is another great-grandson of the founder.

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