Honeydew melons out of Mexico have been in short supply on the U.S. market, but as February began, Nogales, Ariz.-based shippers such as SunFed and MAS Melons & Grapes LLC reported volumes were close to those projected.
While the market as a whole totaled only about 25% of the volume from January 2011, MAS Melons was hitting 85% of its target, said Miguel Suarez, managing partner.
“We’re harvesting in Colima now,” he said.
“I don’t know why, but we aren’t much affected. The 15% we’re missing is mostly because of a little cooler weather than we should be having.”
Hurricane Jova devastated parts of Colima in October. There were also issues with a virus and with replanting.
“They call it the yellow virus and it affects the plant, not the fruit,” Suarez said.
“The plant dies before its time, and you can’t get the yields.”
SunFed benefited from differences in elevation in Colima.
“Fortunately, we were able to get in and plant in some higher areas with more porous soil, resulting in SunFed receiving 90% of the loads crossing through Nogales the week of Jan. 29,” said Danny Mandel, president of the Rio Rico, Ariz.-based company.
Sizes were peaking on 6s, with availability on 5s expected to increase. Quality and brix were high, he said.
“Volume should gradually build each week out of Mexico,” Mandel said.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, unofficial prices on Mexican honeydews crossing at Nogales were $20.35-23.95 for 2/3 cartons of 5-6s Jan. 30. Year-ago prices were just $9.35.
The shortage had as much or more to with Central American production.
“They had a tropical system in the fall that, while not garnering the headlines that a major hurricane does, caused extensive flooding in areas of Honduras and Guatemala, disrupting planting schedules,” Mandel said.
“Since then their weather has been seasonally cool and has apparently delayed their volume on honeydews.”
The spring melon crop in Hermosillo and Caborca was going into the ground the first week of February, said Brian Vandervoet, president of Vandervoet & Associates Inc., Rio Rico, Ariz.
“I believe in Caborca, honeydew acreage is going to decrease maybe 20% or 30%,” Vandervoet said.
“They might see double the money. Cantaloupes and watermelons grown in Hermosillo will have the same acreage (as before).”
Central America dominates cantaloupe exports to the U.S. from mid-December through March, and there have been supply issues with that melon as well.
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.”