Pairing personal melons with cantaloupes through promotions has also lifted the entire category and brought consumers back to cantaloupes, he says.
“Once the initial scare died down, we actually went with an aggressive route, running a couple of hot promotions and giving customers an education at the same time,” Morris says.
Part of the reason for the recovery, says Wright, has been a renewed emphasis on improving standards. “Everyone has examined their operations and pushed food safety standards up a notch,” he says.
While Wright says most suppliers were already following standards, the outbreak refocused energies into exploring how safety could be improved.
Morris says that such a move is well overdue.
“The fact that it took so long for this to come out in public was the scary thing,” he says. “We need to be able to say right away where and when something was grown and distributed if there is an issue.”
From the supplier side, Mandel says that although all elements of food safety are “already being given tremendous attention” regarding imports, “perhaps less pressure and vigilance” is placed on domestic producers.
“What is lacking is a commitment on the part of all retailers to only procure from grower-shippers who are fully vested in food safety and to require the same from companies who act as intermediaries,” Mandel says.
He adds that SunFed’s products offer transparency through the HarvestMark certification program.
Despite last year’s events, Morris says melons continue to sell well, with cantaloupes still ranking in Rouses’ top two, while sales of speciaty varieties — particularly honey, golden and sugar kiss — have seen a significant increase in sales.
Likewise, Wright says cantaloupe remains the driver of the melon category, with locally grown athena cantaloupes performing particularly well.
Aside from conventional melons, Morris says two segments — organic and fair trade — are becoming particular “hot trends.”
“We are asking all of our vendors if they have organics and if they are fair trade or part of the Rainforest Alliance,” he says.
In terms of merchandising, Morris says Rouses Markets focuses shopper attention through bins at store entrances and spillovers in the produce department. Mobile ice beds and refrigerated cases are also used to highlight fresh-cut fruit.
During the summer months, Tops uses high-profile melon displays in both the fresh produce and home sections to drive sales, while cut slices display quality and color to consumers.
“From a retail standpoint, we took a major dollar and unit hit after the listeria outbreak, but we have now turned the corner and are seeing the consumer back and actively engaged in the category,” Wright says.