Fresh-cut melons remain a top produce industry trend.

“From easy-peel citrus to bagged sliced apples, growth has followed any item that has increased convenience and offered additional consumption opportunities for consumers,” said Mike Martori, vice president of sales at Pura Vida Farms, Scottsdale, Ariz.

Others agree.

“Fresh-cut demand seems to be growing, driven by the same thing that drives fresh purchases: When consumers get good fruit, they come back for more,” said Curtis DeBerry, chief executive officer of
Progreso Produce Ltd., Boerne, Texas.

However, DeBerry said fresh-cut offerings aren’t really an outlet for fruit with outside defects, which means more volume will be needed to fill those needs, something he said he hoped increases in acreage from several growers will accommodate.

“It’s possible if it’s going to be chunked up, but often times it goes into slices that still have the skin on them,” he said.

Fresh-cut quality assurance

Jimmy Henderson, owner of Warren Produce LLC, McAllen, Texas, said fresh-cut offerings can help retailers alleviate consumer concerns about quality, color or texture.

“The biggest complaint we get as a watermelon industry is from consumers who are spending $5 or $6 on a watermelon only to get it home and it not be what they expect,” he said.

“A lot of retailers are seeing the value of precut melons to help them get around that No. 1 complaint.”

Tailored varieties

Parma, Idaho-based Nunhems, the operating name of Monheim, Germany-based Bayer CropScience, is working to accommodate the need for special varieties for fresh-cut applications.

“We are working with both processors and retailers on finding varieties with the traits that might fit these needs, such as a firmer-fleshed watermelon or a smaller ‘single-serve’ cantaloupe,” said Rob Beets, produce chain specialist for Nunhems.

Personal-sized watermelons

The demand for smaller fruit continues to grow.

“Consumers are looking for good cutting, sweet watermelons, and I think smaller sizes will be more in demand,” said Tom Glenos, president, Kid’s Choice Fresh Produce Inc., Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Still, Gordon Hunt, director of marketing and communications for the National Watermelon Board, Orlando, Fla., says larger melons have a place in the market.

“If you don’t have a large family, it’s rare you would want to buy a 20-pound watermelon, although people still want those for large families and for the church picnics on the weekends,” he said.

Martori sees potential for future varieties to gain in popularity if they follow this trend for smaller portion sizes.

“Other than the personal watermelon, we haven’t seen an alternative to conventional consumption options in melons,” he said.

“There is great growth potential for the category if we can introduce products that give consumers more options for when, where, and how they enjoy melon items.”