(March 5, 4:51 p.m.) ORANGE BEACH, Ala. — Watermelon marketing campaigns are stretching beyond their traditional boundaries in 2008, in an effort to target all types of consumers, 365 days a year, both domestically and abroad.

“The idea is watermelon is not just for consumer picnics anymore, and the strategy is to convince people to eat watermelon any time of the day,” said Leslie Coleman, the Orlando, Fla.-based National Watermelon Promotion Board’s director of communications, at the National Watermelon Association’s 94th convention Feb. 20-24 in Orange Beach.

Several outside organizations, including Continental Airlines, Sara Lee and various researchers, are assisting the National Watermelon Promotion Board in encouraging consumers to eat more watermelon, said Gordon Hunt, marketing director for the board.

The board also has the help of a $2.5 million budget, up from $1.6 million in 2007, as a result of the industry’s increased assessment rate, which recently jumped from 4 cents to 6 cents per cwt. It marks the first time the promotion board’s budget has ever risen, Hunt said.

To support the year-round effort, the promotion board has created a new illustration of watermelons moving through all four seasons. It will be used by the board this year, and eventually available to the industry for use, Coleman said.

In addition to the new image, the board intends to place an added emphasis on individual states’ growing seasons, and apply that at the retail level by setting promotions earlier, bolstering secondary displays, feature ads and feature pricing and utilizing the queens more, Hunt said.

This year, the board will be more knowledgeable on what drives consumer spending year-round, since, for the first time, it will be equipped with data that indicates what sorts of promotional activity influences consumers during the import and domestic seasons, Hunt said.

Using Market Track LLC — a company that monitors promotions and consumer decision making in grocery stores — the board will obtain nearly real-time results of purchasing trends throughout the import season, he said.

The board also wants to connect with new consumers this year, such as those receiving fruit and vegetable vouchers under the Women, Infants and Children program, he said.

Therefore, the board is developing a “healthy-eating” brochure — four pages front and back — detailing the nutritional value of watermelon, and why those receiving WIC vouchers should choose watermelon, Hunt said.

“I think we’ll get a big chunk — it’s a big, big deal this year,” Hunt said. “I want us to be in there first. It’s a perfect entry vehicle for fresh produce.”

The NWA also is focusing on previously untapped export markets, specifically the United Kingdom and Ireland, which the watermelon industry plans to infiltrate in 2008, and, ideally, strengthen in years to come, Hunt said.

Melons will be shipped into the U.K. and Ireland for the first time by Brent Jackson, owner of Jackson Farming Co., Autryville, N.C. There is huge potential abroad, as several European countries unaccustomed to high-quality watermelon, or watermelon in general, Hunt said.

“The U.K. is not used to watermelon — they can’t grow in northern Europe,” Hunt said. “It’s sort of an exotic product over there. There’s a huge opportunity out there.”

PARTNERSHIPS

During May and June, Continental Airlines will feature a 90-second watermelon segment on TV monitors during all domestic and international flights, which an estimated 3 million viewers will see, Hunt said.

The segment is part of a Florida travel piece, Hunt said.

The board also plans to unite with Sara Lee to endorse watermelons, Hillshire Farm sausages, Ball Park franks and hot dog buns, two weeks before the Fourth of July. In the cross-promotion, consumers will receive $3 off a whole watermelon when they purchase either sausages or franks and hot dog buns, Hunt said.