Melon imports from Central America should roughly equal last winter’s totals, but market share is changing after a downsizing at Plantation, Fla.-based Fresh Quest.

“This year for the North American market we’ll have about 15% less fruit overall, including 25% less proprietary fruit,” said Alan Guttmann, Fresh Quest president.

The company has increased volume in Guatemala to replace Honduras product, but the difference remains net negative.

Fresh Quest is developing a 1,038-acre farm in Guatemala. Only about 350 acres will be ready for harvest in January.

“We plan on developing the balance of it for the following season,” Guttmann said.

“We’ve been in Honduras since 1993,” he said.

“But over many years inland transportation has become more and more expensive and quality of product from Guatemala has gotten better. We’re looking to consolidate our base of operations and our production so we can gain better economies of scale rather than having two farms and two sets of administration.”

Lou Kertesz Jr., a Fresh Quest cofounder, left the company in June and became category manager for melons for Pompano Beach, Fla.-based Ayco Farms Inc.

Ayco Farms has melon production in Guatemala, Honduras and Costa Rica.

“It does move Ayco into a bit of a stronger market position, within the top three in melons for sure,” Kertesz said.

“Overall we’re up close to 30%.”

Besides cantaloupes and honeydews, Ayco Farms offers a mini seedless watermelon that started harvesting in the region around Nov. 20.

Central American melon production started in November and goes to May.

Specialty melons

Fresh Quest plans to start shipping galia melons and yellow honeydews, along with cantaloupes, to Europe beginning in March.

“It’s our third year doing that,” Guttmann said.

“Galia has a following in Europe but unfortunately hasn’t caught on in the U.S. It has a green flesh and is much sweeter than a honeydew but also smaller.”

Still, galia remains available in the U.S.

Central American Produce Inc., Pompano Beach, began shipping cantaloupes and honeydews from Guatemala and Honduras in mid-November. Watermelons will start in January and go through April, said Michael Warren, president.

Warren forecast a 5% rise in melon volumes over last year.

“We’re just nailing the sugar levels,” he said. “It’s 13 brix on cantaloupe and 11 on honeydew, which is good.”

“Weather has been ideal,” Kertesz said Nov. 26.

“Sugar has been excellent because of cool nights. The balance of the domestic deal was pretty rough. Sugar was barely there because of the weather. You had high markets and lesser quality. It’s a nice change of pace to go to the offshore deal.”