From canary melons to cantadews to mini watermelons and new varieties just in trial stages, specialty varieties appear to be catching the attention of melon growers and shippers who are looking for new revenue streams.
Shippers said that varieties considered specialty in the U.S. are more mainstream elsewhere.
“Traditionally, the canary melons do well in the bigger markets,” said Lou Kertesz, vice president of Fresh Quest Produce Inc., Pompano Beach, Fla. “In bigger markets, like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Toronto, those items do very well.”
Customer bases in those and other large metropolitan areas are familiar with the specialty varieties, Kertesz said.
“You have good ethnic populations that recognize the sweetness of those melons,” he said.
“Those commodities we usually grow for the European markets. They generally are recognized as a sweeter melon.”
Newer, less-mainstream varieties are often difficult to find during the winter months, which creates a window of opportunity for import shippers, Kertesz said.
“This time of year, retailers don’t push those items,” he said. “You have a very high mark-up, so the quantities they order are very small.”
The canary melon is an example, although it’s not considered a specialty in some parts of the world, Kertesz said.
“A honeydew that we typically sell in the U.S. will not sell in Europe,” he said. “They prefer the canary melon. It’s considered more a specialty here, but it’s a staple in Europe.”
The Harper variety, also known as a Caribbean gold, is considered a tangy supersweet cantaloupe hybrid. Shippers said that it’s gaining traction in the market.
“Our variety is the Harper variety, which we’ve taken to a new level,” he said. “It’s a sweeter, longer-shelf-life melon. We call it ‘extra supersweet.’ It has done a very good job. Unfortunately, everybody is trying to grow the same melon.”
But not all Harpers are the same, he added.
“They may be growing the same melon, but they’re not getting the same results,” he said.
Kertesz said his company launched the Harper.
“Customers recognize it’s a superior melon over a traditional type of cantaloupe,” he said.
“However, competitors who are growing it are finding negative reviews of it, and that’s strictly based upon how it’s produced.”
Ladera Ranch, Calif.-based Dulcinea Farms LLC specializes in mini watermelons.
“We’re well beyond double (the volume) of our next-closest competitor, at least in the mini watermelon market,” said John McGuigan, vice president of sales and marketing.
Other varieties are helping the melon business mature, as well, McGuigan said, adding that his company has its own proprietary Harper, coming out of Central America, as well as the U.S.
“We continue to see the melon category evolve,” he said. “As we offer a consistent eating product, you’re seeing that market move to us.”
Sandia Distributors is placing some of its emphasis this year on mini watermelons, said Raul Paez, the Nogales, Ariz.-based company’s president.
“We have some mini trials – some pretty heavy trials,” he said. “We had a pretty good deal in the fall. We’re not getting into the specialties, other than the mini watermelons.”
Shipments out of Mexico should start at the end of March, he said.
“They have a gap from fall to spring here out of Mexico,” he said.
Fresno, Calif.-based Crown Jewels Marketing & Distribution LLC also is looking at the mini melons, said Atomic Torosian, a partner with the company, which also operates an office in Nogales.
“That seems to be a growing category,” Torosian said. “They did very well last year.”