Turlock Fruit Co. Inc. will offer its proprietary Orangedew melons again this season, says co-owner Steve Smith. ( Courtesy Turlock Fruit Co. Inc. )

Sales of specialty melons appear to be headed back to normal after stumbling a bit at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, some growers are noticing a dip in movement of some traditional varieties as some of the newer types take off.

Turlock Fruit Co. Inc., Turlock, Calif., will have a full line of specialty melons, including piel del sapo, crenshaw, Orangedew, juan canary and galia melons, by July 10, said Steve Smith, co-owner.

Crenshaws are among the later varieties, while others come on earlier, he said.

“Every one is different.”

Couture Farms, Huron, Calif., has reduced its acreage of specialty melons by 50% because of uncertain market conditions during the planting period, said partner Steve Couture.

The company wasn’t sure what shoppers would be looking at this spring and summer, he said.

It turns out that movement of specialty melons was leaning more toward normal than expected, and Couture said the company’s decision makers “probably would have been more aggressive in planting” if they knew then what they know now.

“In March, it was kind of a more depressed scene out here,” he said.

Although cantaloupes and honeydews were moving at 80% to 100% of normal, mixed melons, like crenshaws and canaries, are more of an impulse buy, he said. And they’re a little pricier, leading the company to have second thoughts about planting a full crop.

Specialty melons tend to sell out in the supermarket, and they are sweet-tasting and have a relatively long shelf life, he said. But it was unclear in March what the picture would look like in July and August.

“We’re getting ready to plant our last block,” he said May 18, but still, the company decided not to take a chance and plant much more than 50% of its normal crop.

Couture Farms planned to kick off its nearly month-long season July 8, offering the popular hami melons along with orange-flesh, juan canary, santa claus (piel de sapo) and golden honeydews.

The company only planted crenshaws in its first block.

Crenshaws are a softer, more specialized melon, “so we’re cutting way back on that acreage,” Couture said.

The firm planted no casabas or galias.

“We love galias, but they don’t move right away, and they go soft faster than the other specialty melons,” he said.

Couture thinks this year’s reduction in acreage is a one-time event.

“We expect to be back bigger than ever next year,” he said.

Sales of specialty melons have been stable, said Smith of Turlock Fruit, but some of the newer varieties, such as the company’s proprietary Orangedew, are gaining popularity.

At the same time, Smith said some of the more mature melons, like the crenshaws and casabas, are declining in sales.

“It’s kind of a new day in the mixed melons,” he said.

“The newer, higher-maturity, better-eating varieties are succeeding,” Smith said. 

“The traditional varieties are not.”

Couture said that, in the midst of the pandemic, retail buyers seemed to have “had slight hesitancy to get started in new deals.”

In the past, when the first products of the season came out, buyers would grab them, stores would run with them and try to beat the competition, he said.

In the beginning of the pandemic, stores were trying to figure out what the best plan was to satisfy their customers, who were looking at the basics.

Couture was concerned about the melon sales.

“If you miss a week of the melon deal, you might as well start disking fields,” he said. “We were a little worried about the startup.”

“Now,” he said, “it looks like the buyers are attentive, and new items are moving into the store very satisfactorily.” 

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