The first trademarked Rocky Ford Cantaloupe shipped to retailers July 13, almost a year after the beginning of a listeria outbreak linked to cantaloupe from Jensen Farms. That outbreak killed 32 people and sickened at least another 146 in 28 states.
Michael Hirakata, head of sales for Hirakata Farms and chairman of the association said July 16 that most retailers who received shipments sold out the first day.
"All I've got in my cooler right now is cold air," Hirakata said.
Hirakata said he isn't ready to start thinking about next season yet, but if consumer enthusiasm holds he expects more acres to be back in production next year.
Courtesy Hirakata FarmsWorkers at the new Hirakata Farms cantaloupe packing shed load pallets with the first trademarked Rocky Ford Cantaloupes destined for retailers on Colorado's Front Range. All growers members of the association are required to use the new shed, which has stringent food safety protocols.“The response has been incredible. We’ve been out at retailers this morning and people are excited,” Diane Mulligan, a spokeswoman for the growers’ association, said July 13. “There are 30,000 pounds shipping today to the Front Range of Colorado.”
Mulligan said she saw retail prices of 69 cents per pound for cantaloupe, including the Rocky Fords. She said there won’t be nationwide distribution of the trademarked cantaloupes this year, mainly because growers only planted about 30% of the area that they did last year.
Assistant produce manager Chris Garbuno said the King Soopers store on West Northern Avenue in Pueblo, Colo., hadn’t received its shipment of Rocky Fords as of 10 a.m. July 13, but customers were looking forward to it.
“We’ve had people asking for them all morning,” Garbuno said. “We expect the shipment anytime.”
Garbuno said the Rocky Ford Cantaloupe would be priced the same as the store’s other cantaloupe at 69 cents per pound.
Hirakata said he was seeing wholesale prices July 13 of $17-20 per box for 9s and 12s. He said that’s at least $3 more than last year’s prices and he believes the higher prices will hold through this season.
Courtesy Rocky Ford Growers AssociationThe Rocky Ford Growers Association website focuses on the unique characteristics of the Rocky Ford region's cantaloupe, as well as the food safety protocols the association requires of its member growers.“We got started a bit earlier than planned because the heat came on. We didn’t think we would be shipping until July 20,” Hirakata said, adding that higher daytime temperatures had resulted in sweeter melons with brix counts of 14.5-16.
Hirakata estimates the association’s growers will ship about 180,000 cartons this season, with about 10 melons per carton, depending on size.