SOMERTON, Ariz. — Traditionally, melon breeders have focused on grower traits, such as yields and disease resistance, and flavor was frequently an afterthought.
But that trend has changed, at least within HM Clause, parent company of Modesto, Calif.-based Harris Moran.
"The trend is toward a better-eating melon that will be consistent from one growing area to the next when you move from the desert to the San Joaquin Valley and back to the desert in the fall,” said Meir Peretz, Western regional sales and product development manager. “We want to have the same consistent taste experience by the consumer.”
As an example, he pointed to the Origami, a cantaloupe that combines flavor, aroma, and high Brix with longer shelf life more like a Harper-type melon.
Harris Moran has exclusive agreements with Five Crowns Marketing and Legend Produce to market the Origami in the U.S. and Mexico, Peretz said.
Even before Origami seed was commercially available, it had captured the attention of Barry Zwillinger, owner of Legend Produce, Dos Palos, Calif.
For four years, the grower-shipper has conducted field trials as well as sampling programs with retailers, restaurants, food service and processors — all with the same response.
“It’s been an overwhelming success,” Zwillinger said. “And that’s what’s brought us from growing 3-4 acres as a test plot to growing over 3,000 acres this year.”
Demand for the Origami has exceeded supply, and he said Legend Produce plans to double acreage next year.
Retailers like the branded melon because it helps differentiate themselves from others that carry cantaloupe as a commodity, Zwillinger said.
Some retailers will display point-of-purchase materials identifying the melon, whereas others may market it under the Legend brand, he said. Still others may promote it as the Origami brand by Legend.
Processors also like the variety because it has a thin rind, small seed cavity and flesh recovery as high as 55% compared to 40% for most standard cantaloupe varieties, Petertz said.
One of the downsides for growers is plants yield about 20% less than some other Western shipper varieties, making it more expensive to produce, Zwillinger said.
“But what you’re getting is a superior melon and repeat business and repeat sales,” he said. “The retailers and food service and processors that are focusing on Origami are flavor-driven companies, and they are increasing daily.”
Brawley, Calif.-based Five Crowns Marketing also has seen increased demand for the variety, said Daren Van Dyke, director of sales and marketing. One small independent retailer, for example, used to take six to seven pallets of cantaloupe per week, he said. Now with Origami, that same retailer is taking a full load each week.
“We’ve been looking for more of a long-shelf-life melon that also has the characteristics of a Western shipper, a slip melon,” he said. “(The Origami) is the best combination of a Harper and a Western shipper.”
When a Western shipper is ripe, the stem will detach cleanly from the fruit — a trait known as “slip.”
The Origami has that same characteristic, making it easy for harvest crews to determine whether the fruit is ripe to pick, Peretz said.
In the past, Van Dyke said Five Crowns Marketing focused heavily on another Western shipper variety that had softer flesh. To compensate, harvest crews would pick it when it had more of a breaking color and about three-quarters slip.
But with the Origami, “You can get it ripe, and not only is it ripe, but it is going to hold up,” he said.