Importers are expecting steady supplies of quality melons throughout the winter season.

"Weather from Guatemala - and later from Honduras and Costa Rica - have been favorable," Ted Torosian, partner in Custom Produce, Parlier, Calif., said Jan. 6.

"Supplies should be normal."

Torosian said that for a few weeks in mid-January his company would have imported melons from four countries - Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica and Mexico - but Guatemala's deal was expected to wind down in late January before ramping up again in March.

Torosian said sizing on cantaloupes and honeydews has been larger than normal.

Conversely, Mikee Suarez, salesman for MAS Melons & Grapes, Rio Rico, Ariz., said Jan. 9 that some watermelons from Mexico have been smaller than normal early in the Colima deal, but that sizing would likely even out as the season progresses.

MAS began shipping watermelons, mini watermelons and honeydews from Colima in late December. That deal, Suarez said, should last until late April.

"We haven't had any issues with weather," he said.

Josh Leichter, general manager for Pacific Trellis Fruit, Los Angeles, said mini watermelon volumes from Mexico are up compared to the El Niño-affected volumes from last season and quality has been excellent.

Leichter said strong organic demand has led the company to work with more organic growers and increased acreage.

Suarez said MAS had increased its acreage in Colima and likely would double its volume compared to last year during the peak of the season in early April. The company shifts operations to Sonora from May through July.

Suarez said high volumes of watermelons from Mexico likely were the cause of lower prices in early January.

He said watermelon was selling for 20 cents a pound, down from 48-50 cents at the same time last year.

"We expect it to rise," he said. "Right now we are overlapping with Guaymas, which is wrapping up this week."

The USDA reported Jan. 10 that cartons of red seedless watermelons from Mexico were $19.50-20.25. Half cartons of size 9 cantaloupes from Guatemala were $12-14. Two-thirds cartons of size 5 honeydews from Guatemala were $13-16, while 6s were $16-18.

"Low demand during the months of November and December caused very low f.o.b.s in comparison to the past two seasons," said Tom Ferguson, vice president of sales and business development for Classic Fruit Co., Deerfield Beach, Fla.

"Retailers have started taking advantage of the lower pricing in January to run aggressive promotions, which has assisted to increase movement and stabilize the pricing. Classic Fruit anticipates excellent promotional opportunities on both cantaloupe and honeydew for the balance of the import season."

Ferguson said fall and winter growing conditions in Guatemala have been "near perfect," allowing for "record yields and optimal quality."

Ferguson said Classic Fruit had expanded its growing operations into Honduras to enhance its honeydew production as well as introducing seedless watermelon to its program.