Melons show strong sales in warmer climates, such as the Sun Belt, but that doesn’t mean they can’t do well elsewhere, marketers say.
“Every market has the opportunity to be a strong market (for melons),” said Josh Knox, melons category manager for sourcing with Eden Prairie, Minn.-based Robinson Fresh, an affiliate of C.H. Robinson Worldwide Inc.
Understanding consumer preferences is a key to unlocking market potential, Knox said.
“The better we can provide them with the product they are craving, the stronger each individual market will be,” he said. “We work to find a balance between supply and demand and it has to be sustainable to everyone in the supply chain. No matter the opportunity, the best way to reach an untapped market is to give consumers a consistent eating experience.”
Weather in March and April provides ideal conditions for melon production for Coral Gables, Fla.-based Del Monte Fresh Produce Inc., said Dennis Christou, vice president of marketing.
The company sees an increase in volumes coming from Costa Rica, Guatemala and Honduras, Christou said.
“July and August also have higher demand for melons and an abundance of availability offshore, as well as regions in North America, such as Florida, Georgia and California,” he said.
Flavor is the key to success, said Barry Zwillinger, partner in Dos Palos, Calif.-based Legend Produce LLC, which shares exclusive rights to the Origami cantaloupe seed with Brawley, Calif.-based Five Crowns Marketing.
“Sales increase 100% to 300% if you have good-eating fruit, in every single store,” Zwillinger said. “Flavor equals success, wherever you are.”
It’s a kind of sensory marketing, said Jeff Fawcett, salesman, Edinburg, Texas-based watermelon grower-shipper Bagley Produce Co.
“If you couldn’t see the melon, there’s the aroma,” he said. “If they have that flavor and sugar, they’re going to come back.”
That’s the main idea behind the Origami, said Daren Van Dyke, sales and marketing director with Five Crowns.
“For us, it’s been a total game-changer,” Van Dyke said of the Origami’s influence on his company’s sales. “In fact, we’re up on our acreage probably close to 10% over last year. It’s the best combination of a long shelf-life melon but it’s not a clip-from-the vine melon. When it hits the shelf, it speaks to the consumer that a new crop is here and it’s really available only May through July.”
The Origami has been around long enough to have built a reputation for itself, Van Dyke said.
“You have to build a brand, but people definitely ask for the variety by name,” he said.
Melon marketing is largely a regional pursuit for Autryville, N.C.-based Jackson Farming Co.
“Ninety-five percent of all of our melon crop goes through the retail chains we do business with in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania,” said Matt Solana, vice president of operations/supply chain with Jackson Farming.
Food safety is a big part of the marketing message at the Dinuba-based California Cantaloupe Advisory Board, said John Gilstrap, manager.
“We don’t spend millions of dollars on marketing, but we are using a variety of social media which is designed to get people to buy cantaloupes and give recipe ideas on how to use them, and also to bring people to our website where there are contests going on and things like that,” Gilstrap said.
The board also wants consumers to know that the product they represent is safe, but in a way that doesn’t alarm them, Gilstrap said.
“Part of our campaign is to prevent people from being scared of the whole category, to give us an audience that knows and trusts us, so if there is an issue — and we don’t like to remind people of that — we do want to make them understand that California cantaloupe has a food safety program and we’re doing everything we can to make sure it stays safe,” he said.
Carrizo Springs, Texas-based Dixondale Farms Inc. markets directly to retailers, said Bruce Frasier, president.
“Since we are the only grower of cantaloupes in Texas we have great support of our Texas retailers and 99% of our product stays in the state of Texas,” Frasier said.