California melons find sweet spot in restaurants

07/18/2014 09:18:00 AM
Tom Burfield

Many Westside California melon grower-shippers have found the processing market to be a solid outlet for their product.

At Del Mar Farms, Patterson, Calif., sales manager Brian Wright said sales of honeydews and cantaloupes to processor are “definitely up.”

“The melon industry has a nice base now,” he said, adding that melons “are one of the most aggressively priced cut items” on a per-pound basis.

Legend Produce LLCPat Tucker (left) and Barry Zwillinger, partners in Dos Palos, Calif.-based Legend Produce LLC, show off some of their melons in an Origami cantaloupe field in Arizona in early June. The company will kick off its California program in early July. The firm expects to ship nearly 10 million packages of cantaloupes and honeydews this season.“We’re seeing more and more of it in restaurants, hotels and buffets,” he said.

Thanks to Westside melons, melons from the California and Arizona desert regions and offshore melons, there’s now a year-round supply of the product, he said.

“That has given foodservice companies and processors the confidence to promote melons throughout the entire year,” Wright said.

Processing product is “more variety based,” Wright said.

Some varieties have a higher brix level or are firmer than others, which is what processors prefer, he said, while others work better for retailers.

Crown Jewels Produce, Fresno, Calif., also sells melons to fresh-cut processors, said Atomic Torosian, managing partner.

“It’s a big business,” he said. “That business has been steady for the last eight to 10 years.”

Processors prefer larger fruit — size 6 or 9 on cantaloupes and 4 or 5 on honeydews, he said.

“They get more fruit by processing the larger sizes,” Torosian said.

Sales of melons to processors can vary from year to year, said Berj Moosekian, general manager for V H Azhderian & Co. Inc., Los Banos, Calif.

The company often sells cartons and bins of honeydew melons to fresh-cut operations.

Business is holding steady, he said.

Last year, the company sold a fairly significant amount of melons to a company that specializes in fruit for fresh-cut operations, he said.

This year, that volume may decrease because the firm is doing more field packing, which is a bit more complicated from a logistics standpoint for the company that buys it.

Sales to processors have been growing every year for Legend Produce LLC, Firebaugh, Calif., said owner Barry Zwillinger.

But they’ve expanded significantly over the past 24 as the company has stepped up its acreage of Origami cantaloupes.

“We have captured a tremendous amount of the fresh-cut program around the country because of our origami,” he said. “It’s the highest-yielding, highest-brix and best shelf life melon available for the processors today.”


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