(June 2) LADERA RANCH, Calif. — First it was a miniature, seedless watermelon, now Dulcinea Farms LLC has launched its extra-sweet, Tuscan-style cantaloupe.

The distinctive melon with green stripes that change color as it ripens was developed by Syngenta Seeds, Basel, Switzerland, a partner in Dulcinea along with Tanimura & Antle Inc., Salinas. Syngenta also developed Dulcinea’s PureHeart watermelon, which was launched in March.

The cantaloupe, in development for two years, comes from Syngenta’s proprietary Italian seed, said Kevin Migdal, Dulcinea’s president. It’s sweet, has a bright orange flesh and is creamier than other melons. It has a brix level of 14-16 compared to nine or 10 for other melons that were tested, he said.

Unlike other melons that typically are picked at various stages of ripeness, Dulcinea’s cantaloupes are picked when they are ready, even if that means picking the same field two or three times a day, Migdal said.

The melons don’t come cheap.

At one store in late May, Dulcinea cantaloupes were retailing at two for $5 compared to two for $1 for other melons, Migdal said.

“It is a more costly melon but, in our tests, it is one that the consumer is well ready to pay the difference for,” he said. The melons come with a 100% consumer satisfaction guarantee.

Safeway Inc. is one of the first chains to pick up the melon and was offering it in two divisions in late May. Migdal said he expected to be shipping up to 20,000 cases a week by early June and eventually 30,000 to 50,000 per week. He expected to ship 700,000 to 1 million cases this year.

Sourcing from California, Arizona and Guatemala will facilitate year-round availability, if the company can maintain quality, he said.

The melons have Universal Product Codes and come in European footprint, display-ready boxes, said Chris Grallert, director of sales. Stores where the melons are available are listed on the firm’s Web site — www.dulcinea.com.

Dulcinea also is developing a honeydew melon that should be available in 2005 and a new melon planned for release in 2006, Migdal said.

Meanwhile, response to the company’s PureHeart watermelon has been strong, Migdal said.

The watermelon was expected to be available in up to 6,000 stores by the end of the season. The cantaloupes should be available in 1,500 stores.

At a May 27 open house at the firm’s new, 6,000-square-foot office facility, Migdal explained that Dulcinea is a far cry from a traditional produce company.

“The model for this company is a consumer products company,” he said. “It’s all about branding, quality and consistency. It’s not about price.”