It’s been just four months since a listeria outbreak linked to Colorado cantaloupes led to more than 140 reported illnesses and 30 deaths. But sources are optimistic that cantaloupes — and the entire melon category — will bounce back.
“Consumers are concerned when an event is happening,” said Ed Odron, owner of Odron Produce Marketing & Consulting, Stockton, Calif.
“It’s on the news. It’s in the paper. It’s very prominent. For those few weeks when it’s happening, it has an effect on sales. As time goes on, people think, ‘I like a good cantaloupe,’ or watermelon, or whatever it might be.”
Odron pointed out that spinach, bagged salads and other products have rebounded from deadly foodborne illness outbreaks that devastated sales in the short term.
In an October report prepared for the National Watermelon Promotion Board by Rose Research LLC, nearly 60% of consumers surveyed said they were purchasing fewer cantaloupes after learning of the outbreak.
One-fourth of shoppers said the outbreak — which received widespread media attention — also had affected their purchasing of honeydews, and 18% said they were buying less watermelon.
But that was then.
“It’s last year’s news now,” Odron said.
“Going forward, I believe if there is a good crop, retailers will get behind it and push it. Consumers will come back.”
Maria Brous, director of media and community relations for Publix Super Markets Inc., Lakeland, Fla., said Jan. 18 that consumer confidence is returning to normal levels in regard to purchasing melons, and cantaloupe in particular.
Joe Santoro, area supervisor and buyer for Nino Salvaggio International Marketplace, St. Clair Shores, Mich., said Jan. 18 that watermelon and honeydew sales have picked up slightly, but cantaloupe sales remained down about 30% compared to the same time last year.
Of course, limited supplies in mid-January and high prices could be contributing factors, Odron said.
Imports from Guatemala and Honduras were $14.95-15.95 for half cartons of 9s and $13.95-14.95 for 15s in south Florida, the USDA said Jan. 18.
Fresh Quest Inc., Plantation, Fla., hopes for a good winter deal after the Colorado debacle hampered movement of their fall crop grown in Arizona.
“This year it was a terrible fall deal,” said vice president of sales Lou Kertesz.
“There was no interest. The media made it seem like it was all melons, though it was just one Colorado grower.”