According to the USDA, cantaloupe half cartons of 9s entering the U.S. from Central America were in the $18-19 range Jan. 30. That’s above year-ago prices in the $11-13 range but less than what it had been in recent weeks. Cantaloupe volumes there are returning to traditional levels, Mandel said.
SunFed expects to begin receiving cantaloupes from Guaymas, Mexico, in mid-April.
Vandervoet said U.S. retailers are showing some enthusiasm for imported cantaloupes despite the 2011 listeria outbreak that hit the commodity in Colorado.
“After last fall, there were a lot of questions about how aggressive retailers would be in featuring cantaloupes,” he said.
“They didn’t do much in October, November and December. But in the first few weeks of January, there’s been some very appropriate promotions of offshore cantaloupes.
“I’m optimistic that when spring rolls around — April 15 for the Mexican cantaloupe harvest and May 15 for El Centro and Brawley — retailers will continue to be receptive to cantaloupes.”
Sales of cantaloupes and honeydews are getting a boost from a growing emphasis on taste, Mandel said.
“I believe that the industry is putting much more emphasis on flavor instead of needlessly obsessing on whether the exterior is 95% or 100% blemish-free. This is creating more consumer demand as they increasingly recognize the higher likelihood of encountering a great-eating piece of fruit.”
SunFed melons are marketed under the Flavor Rich certification trademark of Scientific Certification Systems. Its scale refers to 15 sensory and flavor traits.
For MAS Melons & Grapes, up to 30% of its honeydews, packed under its Desert Pride label, go to Japan.
“This year, our business grew 40% for Japan,” Suarez said.
“In the U.S., consumption is about 70% cantaloupe and 30% honeydew. In Japan it’s 90% honeydew or green-flesh, and 10% orange-flesh.
“Taste is how we got them. We’ve had brix sensors since 2004 that read the sugar content on each melon we pack for Japan. We do it for some of our customers in the U.S. and Canada as well.”