Growers aim at fresh-cut as shopper interest grows

Growers aim at fresh-cut as shopper interest grows

Fresh-cut melons are a newer target market this season for some Westside melon growers.
Steve Smith, co-owner of Turlock Fruit Co. Inc. in Turlock, Calif., said the company is aiming its Orangedew, a honeydew with orange flesh, at the fresh-cut market this year for the first time, and increasing acreage to support that.

“We call it a better cantaloupe, which is an orange flesh, and it could replace cantaloupe in cut fruit and salads, and it has higher sugar and better flavor,” Smith said.

He met with existing customers to convince them to see his new orangedew as a staple — like honeydew — and to begin cutting it in store, which he prefers because it reduces handling of the fruit.

“The trend in business is for stores to cut fruit and put it in small trays, and millennials fall into that trend,” Smith said. “Millennials would rather spend three times as much for a cut tray than to have to cut a whole fruit.”

The newest melon available for customers of Pacific Trellis Fruit in Los Angeles, parent company of Dulcinea Farms, is a yellow seedless watermelon.
The company developed it to have something sweet, small, seedless and similar in taste to traditional watermelon, but also to provide an attractive contrast to red watermelon in foodservice and salad bar settings, said Josh Leichter, general manager for Pacific Trellis. This is the company’s fourth season selling the melon.

“We saw an opportunity for the yellow-flesh personal watermelon, both for selling whole in the traditional supermarket as well as in foodservice fresh cart applications,” Leichter said. 
“It’s quite striking when it’s used in fresh-cut.”

Yellow watermelons aren’t new — they’re grown in Texas and other southeastern states and mainly found at roadside farm stands, he said.

“We wanted to play on that — bring something new and innovative (to customers), and it allows retailers to differentiate themselves from the crowd,” Leichter said.

In the market, the fresh-cut sector has been the largest sector showing the most growth over the past five years, said Garrett Patricio, chief operating officer of 
Westside Produce in Firebaugh, Calif.

“We see melons are being marketed more in clamshells and are being cut by regional cutters or fresh-cut operators, and being delivered to the same grocery stores that we have whole fruit in,” Patricio said. “As the whole fruit category shrinks, the fresh-cut category grows — kind of a push-pull.”

Fresh fruit continues to be one of the top snacking trends among young adults, according to retail research firm The NPD Group Inc. in Port Washington, N.Y., as the age group shifts away from less-healthy foods.

But growers are also facing headwinds in the fresh-cut category.

Consumers age 18-39 were among the least likely to make a cantaloupe purchase overall, according to The Packer’s Fresh Trends 2019 report. The melons are far more popular with those at least 40 years old, according to Fresh Trends.

Growers would also have to consider logistics such as shelf life and packaging when selling to the market sector.

Packaging causes food to generate gasses more readily than whole produce, and each item releases it differently, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Those factors together with transporting can damage the fruit.

Another issue is shelf life.

Fresh-cut products in general — melons are a major product in the category — have a shelf-life of six to 21 days, and that could be more or less depending on the temperatures they are kept at while being stored and moved, the packaging type and the actual food items.