Central American cantaloupes and honeydews are in good supply, but prices are higher than last year.
Cantaloupe cartons of 12, for example, cost $13.65-14.95 in the first week of December, compared to $7.50-8 in 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The difference is that the domestic melon deal faded faster this year.
“Melons should be in good demand because we’re coming out of November with very little supply,” said Michael Warren, president of Central American Produce, Pompano Beach, Fla.
“People are going to want to have melons back. We expect a good demand into January. There will be a little more supply, but supplies overall will be lower than past years because people have cut back on land and are producing less melons.”
Weather that set back papayas and other commodities in the region pretty much spared cantaloupe and honeydew, said Lou Kertesz, vice president of Plantation, Fla.-based Fresh Quest. That pushed up prices on Guatemalan fruit.
“We saw first arrivals in late November,” he said. “We were excited. Everybody thought we would be delayed because of bad weather. Fortunately it didn’t affect us. We’re at a desert-type elevation. The rains created more of a planting schedule issue than a harvesting issue.”
Sugar levels on the Guatemalan fruit are at 13% to 16% on the brix scale. “The fruit is excellent for this time of year,” Kertesz said. “There’s a good distribution of sizes.”
Guatemala is expected to finish its first crop cycle by the second week of January, and start harvesting again about six weeks later. Honduras production will begin in the last week or two of December, with Costa Rica to follow in January.
“It offers us some good diversification,” Kertesz said.
“It’s a firm market,” he added. “Business was a little sluggish right after Thanksgiving but picked up toward Christmas.”
That’s true despite this year’s higher price and the still-struggling U.S. economy.
“Last year we saw an effect (from the economy). This year not so much,” Kertesz said. “This year what we’re seeing is that people have to eat. If you’re going to eat, you might as well eat something healthy.”
Fresh Quest diversifies its clients as well as its growing regions. For example, the company ships to the United Kingdom and the Netherlands as well as the U.S.