More and more consumers seem to be turning to organic produce as they seek more healthful menu options, and the melon category is no exception.
“We’re beginning to get a lot of interest from mainline retailers who are looking to expand their organic sections,” said Rod Rosales, director of sales for Devine Organics LLC, Fresno, Calif.
V.H. Azhderian & Co. Inc., Los Banos, Calif., has a “significant” organic program that is progressing well, said Berj Moosekian, general manager.
“People have enjoyed the quality and have asked for more,” he said.
Mainstream supermarkets and wholesalers are the company’s primary organic customers.
Dulcinea Farms LLC, Ladera Ranch, Calif., will kick off its organic PureHeart cantaloupes in California’s San Joaquin Valley starting around July 10, said general manager John McGuigan.
“We’ll have a fairly large organic offering coming out of the San Joaquin Valley for the summer,” he said. “It’s a growing part of our business.”
“The demand on the organic side is good, but it’s not consistent,” said Barry Zwillinger, owner of Legend Produce LLC, Firebaugh, Calif.
The company more often than not ends up marketing its organic melons as conventional, he said, because Legend Produce has such large organic plots.
Zwillinger said it’s difficult for the company to grow small organic acreage.
Volume still is a bit of a challenge, Rosales said, because despite higher interest in the category, buyers aren’t ordering full loads, as they would on the conventional side. But he said that gap should narrow with time.
Pricing can be another challenge, Rosales said.
Organic melons will continue to earn premium prices simply because supplies are tighter than on the conventional side, he said.
“But there still is a discussion about how much of a percentage above conventional pricing they can be and still be profitable to the farm,” Rosales said.
Price can be affected by the volume of conventional melons.
“When you come into glut markets on conventional melons, the organic market has to slide too,” he said.
That’s because many consumers will buy organic, but when the price spread is too great, “they lean toward conventional,” he said.
Turlock Fruit Co. Inc., Turlock, Calif., markets organic cantaloupes and honeydews for an organic grower, said co-owner Steve Smith.
The company started selling organic cantaloupes under the Turlock Fruit Co. Peacock label and honeydews under the company’s Sycamore label in July, he said.
The firm offers organic melons to provide its customers with one-stop shopping for their melon needs, he said.
Couture Farms, Huron, Calif., has grown organic honeydew, galia, orange-flesh and canary melons for the past two years but won’t have an organic melon program this year because of the drought, said partner Steve Couture.
The company will revive the program next year if the water situation improves.
Costs of producing organic melons aren’t coming down, Rosales said, even though growers are getting better at it.
Growing organically remains labor intensive because of limitations on fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.
Lots of hand labor is required for things like weed control, Rosales said, “and labor isn’t getting any cheaper” — especially in the Westside region.
“We don’t have the same arsenal of tools to combat pests,” Moosekian said.
In addition, organic seed costs much more than conventional seed, he said.
The good news is that manufacturers constantly are improving fertilizers and coming up with organic pesticides, Moosekian said.