When you take your first sweet sip of Juice Generation’s new Pink Pitaya Coco Blend, founder Eric Helms wants you to feel like you just made it past a velvet rope.
Why? The company says that it has a year-long “exclusive” on the hot pink antioxidant-packed pitaya—a form of dragon fruit that’s sourced from small farms in Nicaragua. After the short growing season is over, he’s storing his smoothie packs of the blended fruit frozen in a 25,000-square-foot warehouse in Pennsylvania, so he can keep us in supply year-round.
Helms might be bringing pitaya to the New York smoothie-sipping cognoscenti, but his supplier has been slowly stocking the juice at Whole Foods and other healthy outposts. (It’s the pink bottle that looks like fruit punch meets Samabazon.)
“I’m the only one to export it in the history of Nicaragua,” says Chuck Casano, the veritable Prince of Pataya, who has a lock on the crops and is selling it to Helms.
Casano, a native New Yorker who now splits his time between San Diego and Nicaragua, discovered the fruit while working for a nonprofit in the country and launched his company, Pitaya Plus, in February of last year. In addition to bottled juices, Casano sells dried pitaya snack packs in health food stores in New York.
In the process, Casano has become an expert on the fruit he describes as resembling a “flaming pink artichoke.” He works directly with the farmers who cultivate it on the back side of the Masaya Volcano, where the rich soil infuses the fruit with the incredible nutrients that set it apart from the white-fleshed Asian dragon fruit that is widely sold. “My goal is to make it the next acai,” he says.
When Helms tracked him down and asked if he would share the Pitaya bounty with him (and him alone) for the next year, Casano saw an opportunity to set that in motion. “He’s in all of the right places, so it was kind of a no-brainer for us,” Casano says.
If Juice Generation’s loyal followers fall in love with Helm’s concoction and more people start to spot Casano’s juices on supermarket shelves, that moment may come sooner than later. “We’re building a new factory in Nicaragua this year,” Casano says, “so we’ll be ready if the demand comes.” —Lisa Elaine Held