There's no denying that melon sales drop with the outside temperature, said Jon Macauley, store manager with Ken's Fruit Market, a three-store retail chain in Grand Rapids, Mich.

"There is an old slogan that you don't sell a melon after Labor Day, and I'd have to say that is not wrong," Macauley said.

"You have the season wrapped up in October, so it's certainly hard to put a nice sale on something here or there."

Ken's still will build melon displays for the winter and find a strategically sound place for them during the season, Macauley said.

"I tend to move my melons near the end of a table near an aisle, but the best thing is to back down - don't try to build the large melon mountain that you have in summer - and keep piles real tight," he said.

Citrus tends to be a more active seller than melons in the winter, particularly with the Florida, Texas and California seasons in full gear, Macauley said.

Winter doesn't have to be a dark time for melon sales, though, said Dick Spezzano, owner of retail-focused Spezzano Consulting Service in Monrovia, Calif.

"It used to be right after Labor Day when the whole watermelons were bigger sellers than today, you'd fill bins to a small display, and by Oct. 1 you got out of it as it moved offshore, but you see today they keep the display of whole watermelons going, mostly on seedless," Spezzano said.

Recent figures from AC Nielsen indicate melon sales are rising, regardless of the season. According to Nielsen, retail sales of all melons totaled about $1.15 billion over a 52-week period ending Nov. 27. Volume had increased 10.9% during that period.

Watermelon led the category in dollar sales, at around $742 million, followed by cantaloupe, $324 million; honeydew, $72 million; and specialty varieties, $16 million. The latter category registered a year-on-year volume increase of 18.1% - the biggest increase in the melon segment. Cantaloupe followed, at 12.7%, and watermelon, 10.9%. Honeydew volume decreased 2.9%, Nielsen reported.

Retail sales of melons have been trending upward in recent years, Nielsen reported. In 2015, the most recent full-year figures available, sales of all melons totaled more than $953 million in the U.S., or about 0.6% more than the $948 million in 2014. Volume also increased by 6.8%, year-over-year, in 2015.

The onset of mini watermelons has invigorated the category, particularly in the winter, Spezzano said.

"I'm sure the mini melons have really impacted the sales of whole watermelons, because they're more promotable. The size applies to more Americans, as family sizes have shrunk," Spezzano said.

"The mini melon makes a whole lot of sense, really."

Fresh-cut melons also generate wintertime sales, Spezzano said.

"We've seen a real wave in produce departments, where they're doing a lot of cutting in-store," Spezzano said.

That's a reversal of a trend that had processors busy for years.

"It once was done in the back rooms of stores, but we all kind of got away from it because of food safety, Spezzano said.

"Now, we're seeing a lot of that returning to the back room, especially on the fruit side, with melons, berries, mangoes, papayas."

Macauley said his store is cutting melons in house, which has boosted melon sales in the winter months.

"Any time we get melon that looks a little rough, we'll cut it in half or dice it and package it," he said. "You can make something back or maybe even a little profit."

Retailers across the country seem to be heading in that direction, Spezzano said.

"The whole cut melon category continues to increase, and the increase on cut melons is higher than most any other place in the produce department," he said.

"Summer is certainly bigger than winter (for melon sales), but even in winter you can sell cut melons."

 
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