Firebaugh, Calif.-based Legend Produce LLC is always looking for the next generation of melons, said owner Barry Zwillinger.
About five years ago, Zwillinger discovered a variety called Origami.
The Origami has all the qualities one could ask for in a melon, he said, including long shelf life, large size, thin rind, small seed cavity, straw color, deep orange flesh, phenomenal aroma, excellent flavor and an average brix rating of 15% or higher.
Legend acquired exclusive rights to the melon from Modesto, Calif.-based Harris Moran Seed Co. in 2013 and has boosted its volume from a small test plot five years ago to 3,000 acres this season. Zwillinger expects to double that acreage next year.
The company shares its exclusivity on the Origami with Brawley, Calif.-based Five Crowns Marketing, and has partnered with Five Crowns in some of the desert growing areas, Zwillinger said.
Legend Produce, which also grows honeydew melons and about a dozen other cantaloupe varieties, said the Origami takes cantaloupes back to the basics.
“We’re not trying to produce the lowest-cost piece of fruit, but we do bring the best flavor, best-tasting, most desirable piece of fruit to the consumer,” Zwillinger said.
“We sacrifice yields and volume sometimes,” he said, but the results are well worth it.
Zwillinger, who handles sales and marketing for Legend Produce, established the company in 1999 with partner Pat Tucker, who is responsible for the growing and packaging operations.
Zwillinger is a fourth-generation melon man whose great-grandfather sold melons from a push cart on the streets of New York. His grandfather came to the West Coast in the 1930s and opened a packinghouse in Firebaugh in 1956. His father followed when he finished his service during World War II.
Zwillinger said Legend Produce offers melons year-round and has become the largest supplier of U.S. melons during the spring, summer and fall.
“There isn’t month or a day when we don’t have melons,” he said.
He expects to ship nearly 10 million packages of cantaloupes and honeydews this season.
Legend Produce supplies Origami melons to retailers, foodservice operators and processors throughout the U.S.
Some retailers said they experienced up to a 50% increase in melon sales after adding Origamis, Zwillinger said.
Sustainability is a large part of the mission of Legend Produce, he said, so the company always is seeking locations where growing is “compatible and adaptive to sustainability.”
The firm currently is experimenting with a 600-acre site in the Woodland area in Northern California in an effort to circumvent the water shortages farther south and has expanded to keep up with increased volume by adding employees and by opening Legend Produce East in Fort Mitchell, Ky.