California watermelon deal brings strong demand

08/02/2012 07:48:00 AM
Vicky Boyd

MANTECA, Calif. — Reasonable f.o.b. prices, strong demand and high quality have converged on California’s northern San Joaquin Valley watermelon-growing region this season, and grower-packer-shippers aren’t complaining.

“I think it’s one of those things where the stars kind of lined up for us ― it’s hard to explain,” said Art Perry, with George Perry & Sons Inc., Manteca.

Vicky BoydWorkers at George Perry & Sons Inc., Manteca, Calif., offload watermelons to the packing line, where they are tested for maturity.Danielle Cultrera, a salesperson with Manteca-based Van Groningen & Sons Inc., agreed.

“It’s kind of a weird year,” she said. “Supplies have been good, but demand has been higher this year than years past.”

On July 30, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service reported 35-, 45- and 60-count red-fleshed seedless watermelon packed in 24-inch bins out of the San Joaquin Valley District fetching 18-20 cents per pound f.o.b. Red-fleshed 35- 45-count seeded watermelons were running 10-12 cents per pound.

The bulk of the watermelons coming from the northern San Joaquin Valley are seedless, with a small amount of seeded varieties used as pollenizers.

Cultrera said West Coast customers prefer seedless, and only a few markets in the South favor seeded melons.

Von Groningen & Sons, which also handles melons from the Imperial Valley and Bakersfield., under the Yosemite Fresh label, started shipping from the Manteca area in late June ― a few days earlier than normal.

“It was a good thing because watermelons were real tight this year, so we needed that extra volume,” she said.

Perry & Sons offers year-round watermelons. Because of the company’s involvement in the Kern County deal, it didn’t start harvesting from northern San Joaquin Valley fields until about July 10 ― a few days later than normal, Perry said.

This summer’s growing season has been nearly ideal, with mostly warm days and cool nights. As a result, fruit quality has been excellent, which no doubt helped repeat sales, he said.

Perry also credited retail promotions for spurring demand.

“I think the retailers have done a great job,” he said. “They’ve had them on ads ... and they’re offering them at a fair price to the consumer.”

Perry said the National Watermelon Promotion Board’s educational programs touting watermelon health and nutritional attributes also appear to be resonating with consumers.

Despite strong markets, both Cultrera and Perry said freight prices also are a bit higher this year, although truck availability has not been a problem.

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