As the so-called grab-and-go market continues to grow, it’s pulling melons right along with it.

Packaged, fresh-cut melons are finding their niche, according to industry leaders.

Even watermelons, which first struck consumer convenience gold with seedless varieties, are making inroads in the fresh-cut area as new varieties are developed that are amenable to the cutting process, said Mark Arney, executive director of the Orlando, Fla.-based National Watermelon Promotion Board.

“If you have a watermelon that’s crunchy, and you don’t go to the extreme, it’s going to help fresh-cut,” Arney said.

“The consumer has that watermelon and it’s real crunchy. I don’t know any consumer that wants a mushy watermelon. So, if you have one that’s really crisp with a high sugar content, that’s the key.”

It has taken some time, but some watermelon varieties have come along that are more receptive to cutting and packaging than in the past,

“Five years ago, if you wanted a melon with more sugar, it was not going to be as firm,” he said. “Now, it doesn’t have to be, especially if it’s one of those new X-varieties.”

Growers and shippers are noticing a growing trend in fresh-cut watermelons.

“It continues to be strong because it offers the element of convenience,” said Angela O’Neal Chappell, sales and marketing representative with Fairfax, S.C.-based watermelon grower-shipper Coosaw Farms. “Retailers are picking up on it, and I think it’s certainly utilized.”

Pompano Beach, Fla.-based Central American Produce has noticed the upward trend in fresh-cut cantaloupes and honeydews, said Michael Warren, president.

“People want to buy smaller portions. They see it and have a higher comfort level buying fruit like that,” he said. “A lot of young consumers out there trying to make a living go in for the convenience, so fresh-cut (has) just as important a role, especially in melons, as the whole-melon sales.”

The category grows a bit each year, said Greg Leger, president and partner with Leger & Son Inc., a Cordele, Ga.-based watermelon grower-shipper.

“I think people in metropolitan areas want to put fruit in front of their kids, but they don’t want to have to deal with the rind or cutting up the watermelon, and convenience sells,” he said.

That convenience carries a price premium, but it isn’t prohibitive, Leger said.

“In some areas you have people (who) are looking for value, and watermelon is one of the best values out there,” he said.

How much the fresh-cut category grows depends on various factors, including the caprices of nature, said Brent Harrison, president of Al Harrison Produce Co., a Nogales, Ariz.-based grower-shipper.

“Fresh-cut is a growing part of our industry. We know that,” he said. “They have strict specifications and we understand that. There are problems throughout the year because of weather-related issues that affect quality, but all in all I see that business growing.”

Manteca, Calif.-based watermelon grower-shipper George Perry & Sons Inc. sells whole melons to processors, said Art Perry, chief executive officer.

“It’s moving more and more each year,” he said.

New varieties are playing an important role in the fresh-cut area, Harrison said.

“If you can get a melon to a cutter’s door, that melon’s going to be great at retail also in shelf life and so forth,” he said.