Thanks to warmer temperatures nationwide increasing demand for melons and pushing harvests slightly ahead of schedule, retailers should have plenty of product to promote.
Imports of watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew from Mexico and Central America will flow consistently into the U.S. through May, said Lou Kertesz, vice president of sales and marketing for Fresh Quest Inc., Plantation, Fla.
“There’s a huge interest in the melon market now, and demand is exceeding supply, which is good,” Kertesz said, attributing the increase to ideal weather, good volume and quality and the fact that few other commodities are coming in to compete promotionally.
“As palates change as the weather gets warmer, we provide our customers a wide variety of high quality melons,” said Craig Ignatz, vice president of produce and floral merchandising at Giant Eagle Inc., Pittsburgh.
“Melon prices are traditionally lower during the summer, making them a good value to customers.”
Domestic shipments of watermelon began arriving out of Florida in early April, ahead of schedule.
“This is one of the best crops we’ve had in about 15 years. The crops look excellent due to the very mild winter and unseasonably warm temperatures,” said Brian Arrigo, president of Southern Corp. Packers Inc., Immokalee, Fla.
As one of the first with stateside watermelons, Arrigo hoped retail prices would be at the right price to move the anticipated volume.
“We hope it finds a nice level that all of us can live with and everyone can make money on,” he said.
“We need more of those warmer temps up north to move a lot of melons.”
Early domestic cantaloupes will begin to arrive in April from Texas, overlapping the end of the Central American season.
Domestic production picks up in California by early to mid-May, continuing through early to mid-October, said Steve Patricio, president of Firebaugh, Calif.-based Westside Produce and chairman of the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board, Dinuba.
“Early plantings (in California) were reduced due to the prior year’s losses and the uncertainty and concern over the Colorado events and what marketplace demand would be,” he said.
Last fall, the cantaloupe market took a hit after Colorado cantaloupes contaminated with listeria were distributed to 28 states, infecting 146 people and causing at least 32 deaths.
Patricio said that as of late March, consumer buying was only down slightly, roughly 15%.