New Superfruit With Local Roots Gaining Popularity

La Jolla-based Pitaya Plus — with products in stores across North County, including Encinitas — created fruit drinks and frozen packs for smoothies and bowls that are made with 100 percent juice.

Move over açaí. A new superfruit has come to town with lower sugar content, higher fiber and a vibrant color. La Jolla resident Chuck Casano launched Pitaya Plus, a superfruit products company, just over a year ago and his pitaya fruit juice drinks and frozen packs have already made their ways to the shelves of 250 grocery stores and dozens of smoothie shops — including several in Encinitas. 

You may have heard of pitaya before. It is a cactus fruit that also parade as dragonfruit. But these are not the Asian dragonfruit with a white fleshy center; Casano deals exclusively with the surprisingly bright magenta ones from South America. Some liken their taste to blueberries. They are mildly sweet with a tart finish.

Casano first came across the pitaya fruit in 2008 while working for a nonprofit in Nicaragua after finishing his MBA. It wasn’t long after his return to the U.S. that he began working on his business plan to import the fruit products and create drinks and bowls from the fresh fruit he enjoyed in Nicaragua.

“I left Nicaragua in the best shape of my life.” Casano said. “There was an amazing abundance of local fresh fruits and vegetables there.”

He wanted to bottle that feeling. Pitaya Plus drinks are made with 100 percent juice. They do not add sugar and claim to have 50 percent to 70 percent less sugar and 50 percent to 70 percent less calories than other 100 percent juice products. The drinks come in two flavors: pitaya lemon and pitaya lemon coconut water. A full pitaya fruit is in each 10.5 ounce bottle and each is less than 100 calories. The drinks have 250 percent of your daily vitamin D and are reportedly good for the digestive system, too.

Pitaya Plus aims to be more than just the newest drink or smoothie/bowl that is high in antioxidants. It aims to be socially and environmentally responsible too. Casano explains it best. He says, “pitaya is a super fruit on a mission.”

Casano said his company is committed to sustainable farming and ethical production methods. They work directly with the producers and co-ops that grow the fruit. Plus they operate out of a solar-powered facility and provide employment opportunities to single mothers.

The fruit is picked by hand, inspected by hand, processed, carefully packaged and shipped directly to California. From the port it is sent to one of two facilities, either to Corona to be bottled or to Temecula to package the frozen packs for smoothie shops. From there it is off to stores.

Pitaya Plus current sells the fruit juice drinks, frozen packs and soon organic dried pitaya fruit packs for snacks.

Casano just penned a deal with a large distributor and expects to expand quite rapidly in 2012.

If you are interested in tasting Pitaya Plus products, you can head over to Whole Foods in Encinitas for the juice drinks or to one of the Encinitas restaurants currently offering the pitaya bowl, which includes Kook’s Café in Cardiff, Swami's Cafe, Honey's Bistro and Juice Stop.

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