“We all lost much in terms of money and product — the consumer’s fear of eating any cantaloupe had a negative impact on sales as a whole,” he says.
Despite this, Christou says conditions in the market are improving, with retailers once again promoting melons and Del Monte Fresh is hopeful demand will continue to grow.
From a supply standpoint, Wright expects volumes to remain stable with ample supplies. “The major shippers we deal with have remained steadfast to their programs and are working diligently to turn a negative into a positive,” he says.
Danny Mandel, president and chief executive officer for Rio Rico, Ariz.-based grower-shipper SunFed, says the market appears to have recuperated well, although he says he believes it will take time for all consumers to come back to the category.
However, given lighter winter production and more
conservative plantings this spring, Mandel says markets have actually been quite strong.
In fact, he says early 2012 was marked by a strong upturn in sales.
“It’s been the best five months for cantaloupes and honeydews since I’ve been in the business — go figure. It certainly didn’t hurt that we had great quality and good supplies,” he says.
Tops also posted strong unit and dollar growth in March, April and May, Wright says.
“A combination of time and good weather has begun to heal negative perceptions — our geographic distance from the problem also helped quicken the recovery,” he says.
Morris of Rouses also is confident the category will recover during 2012 but says he expects the process, for the Rocky Ford region in particular, will take much longer. “We still have customers ask if the cantaloupes are from Colorado,” he says.
Despite such concerns, Wright says Tops has experienced a “real win” by promoting the personal watermelon segment, with sales up 50% year to date.