Markets for Central American melons were weak in early December, and while importers had some hopes of them strengthening, they were not overly optimistic.

Central American cantaloupe markets weaken

Problems can be traced to a rough beginning to the Guatemalan and other offshore deals this fall, said Lou Kertesz, vice president of Fresh Quest Produce Inc., Pompano Beach, Fla.

“It started out in the worst way possible marketwise,” Kertesz said. “Some shippers came in several weeks earlier than they should have, and it conflicted with the domestic supply still available.”

On Dec. 8, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported a price of $6 for one-half cartons on cantaloupes 9s from Guatemala, down from $13.75-13.95 last year at the same time. Two-thirds cartons of honeydews 5-6s from Guatemala were $9.50-10, up from $6.75-8.75 last year at the same time.

Fresh Quest was bringing in cantaloupes and honeydews from Guatemala in early December, Kertesz said. That deal will likely take a six-month break beginning the second week of January.

The company expected to add product from Honduras the last week of December and from Costa Rica the third or fourth week of January.

In early December, Ayco Farms Inc., Pompano Beach, was bringing in significant volumes of cantaloupes and “a few” honeydews from Guatemala, said Ken Kodish, key account manager.

Cantaloupe volumes are higher for the company this year, thanks to higher yields on new varieties, Kodish said.

The effect the holidays were likely to have on demand could be minimal, he said.

“Demand has come off quite a bit,” Kodish said Dec. 7. “There should be some pre-Christmas ads, but it’s pretty clogged up. I don’t see much of a change until after New Year’s.”

While markets will likely get a boost from holiday demand, it may not be big enough, given how low markets were the first week of December, Kertesz said.

“By next week there should be pull for Christmas, but unfortunately not to a level where we’ll all be happy,” he said Dec. 7. “It’ll be higher than it is today, but today is rock bottom.”

One problem, Kertesz said, has been a reluctance by some retailers to bring prices down to reflect the low f.o.b.s. Lowering retail markets could help spur movement of import cantaloupes and honeydews, he said.

Growing weather in Central America has been “perfect” this fall, Kertesz said, with ideal conditions for good yields and quality. 

Unfortunately, however, thanks to what Kertesz said is a number of newcomers to the market, there are significant “variations in quality from one shipper to the next.”