Advances in technology are affecting the melon industry in several ways, including a new juicing technique that promises to deliver consumers watermelon juice for the first time.
Gordon Hunt, director of marketing and communications for the Orlando-Flar.-based National Watermelon Board, said he is excited about the new technology’s potential.
High pressure–cold pasteurization subjects sealed containers of food products to extremely high pressures in order to kill any pathogens.
“It’s like being at the very bottom of an ocean,” Hunt said.
This technique allows the food product to be preserved without heat treatment, which can cause discoloration to delicate items and even changes in taste or nutrient value, Hunt said.
Hunt said that Starbucks is installing a high-pressure system at a facility in California, and he hopes to see their juice products for sale soon.
“I think we’ll see watermelon juice with pomegranates, raspberries and all those combinations,” he said.
Sorting machines are also increasing in usefulness to grower-shippers.
“Customers are starting to want specific sizes and counts per bin, and sorting machines help with that,” said Jorge Quintero Jr., managing member of Grower Alliance LLC, Rio Rico, Ariz.
“Sorting and packing technology is becoming more advanced every year. A few years ago, everything that looked similar went into the box, but now we’re able to use those machines to satisfy customers that want those specific weights,” he said.
Brent Harrison, president of Nogales, Ariz.-based Al Harrison Co., also uses new sorting technology to give consistent sizing, as well as check for defects.
“There’s a huge correlation with using the new sorters for quality. If it can detect hollow heart, it won’t get to the consumer, and that’s huge because if the end consumers like the melon they’ll come back and buy another one,” Harrison said.
“Of course, food safety is at the forefront of the industry right now, and we’re doing pathogen testing on the packing line to try to stay ahead of the food safety curve,” Curtis DeBerry, chief executive officer of Progreso Produce, Boerne, Texas.
Bruce Frasier, president of Dixondale Farms, Carrizo Springs, Texas, said he has upgraded the company’s food safety equipment.
“We have provided our employees with equipment and accessibility to make it easy to perform those food safety tests. The equipment is right in front of them so they can just plug in and scrub down an area without having to carry heavy equipment with them all over the facility,” he said.
“Water is such a prime concern, both in terms of using too much because it’s such a precious resource but also because the less water used the sweeter the melon will be,” said Jimmy Henderson, owner of Warren Produce Co. LLC, McAllen, Texas.
“Drip irrigation is the most effective means to regulate that, and irrigation technologies continue to improve so we can use less water,” he said.
Eden Prairie, Minn.-based C.H. Robinson Worldwide Inc. is using technology to better understand the market.
“We have different retail data from across the U.S., and this technology is helping us understand exactly where we’re seeing growth in terms of variety and sizing to help increase sales and give consumers what they are asking for,” said Josh Knox, strategic category manager.