Speciality and exotic melons are carving out a slice of the market traditionally dominated by watermelons and cantaloupes.

“Because of the situation last year (in Colorado), we’re seeing more interest in varietal melons,” said Daren Van Dyke, director of sales and marketing for Five Crowns Marketing, Brawley, Calif., a specialty melon grower in the Imperial Valley.

“We’re seeing much more of an interest and a willingness from retailers to promote (these melons). In fact, people who hadn’t carried them before now want to.”

Five Crowns Marketing grows such varieties as crenshaw, canary, casaba, galia, orange flesh and santa claus.

Van Dyke said one of their newer melons is the hami, an oblong netted Asian variety with high sugar, a crisp flesh and good shelf life.

This year the company also plans to add organic specialty melons to its mix.

Don Smith, president of Turlock Fruit Co. Inc., Turlock, Calif., said his company began planting melons in early April. The top crop for Turlock Fruit is honeydew, followed by two varieties of cantaloupe and eight varieties of other melons.

The company’s primary production area is in the heart of the California San Joaquin Valley, with a concentration in the Firebaugh district. Harvest is expected around July 4-7, continuing through early October, with the specialties finishing up in mid-September, Smith said.

Ron Drown, sales manager for Coosemans Shipping Los Angeles, said exotic melons like the kiwano and pepino used to be very specialized but are becoming year-round.

The California/Mexico season is about to start, and Drown said demand is increasing as people familiarize themselves with the fruit.

“In the past, a lot of specialty items were only known by produce people, but there’s more variety in grocery stores now,” he said.

“We’re trying to educate the average consumers on the different items that are out there and how the product should look and how it should taste.”