Consumers are increasingly smitten with melons of all types. Watermelons are the fifth most popular fruit with American consumers and cantaloupes are the 13th, according to The Packer’s Fresh Trends 2022 report, for which more than 1,000 consumers were interviewed.
Interest in melons is up from consumers, and this year the weather is certainly helping.
“For melons it couldn’t have been better,” said Mark Cassius, president, Sol Marketing, Pompano Beach, Fla., which is owned by Fyffes. Sol produces cantaloupes, watermelon and honeydew, and Cassius adds that there hasn’t been much pest or disease pressure this year, either.
Other challenges to the melon market abound. “Production costs [have] skyrocketed and fuel prices continue to soar,” said Jordan Carter, director of sales and marketing, Leger & Son in Cordele, Ga. However, she adds, “we are anticipating a successful domestic season.”
Another challenge is freight, “and there’s still a shortage of truck drivers,” said Rachel Syngo, director of new business development for Punta Gorda, Fla.-based Melon 1, which grows watermelons in several East Coast states, Indiana and Kentucky as well as Guatemala.
More than 30 U.S. states grow watermelons, which are sold during the summer months, with production moving to Central American countries like Mexico, Guatemala and Costa Rica during the winter, which accounts for one-third of American watermelon supply.
Melons at retail
Retailers are devoting more shelf space to melons as interest in whole fruit increases and cut fruit continues to be strong due to its convenience.
It’s critical to build a well-merchandised display with your main varieties and signal to your customer base that it’s time for melons,” said Cassius. “If they’re smaller displays you’re not sending that message.”
Cross-merchandising also works well with melons. Some retailers feature Tajin seasoning with them, as offering serving suggestions and recipes can boost purchases “since we’re all looking for something different,” he continued.
Demos can also help increase sales of watermelons, noted Carter, as can selection and health posters. She’s also an advocate of using social media to engage customers and finds the best campaigns are holiday recipes, surveys, sharing promotions and suggesting different ways to cut watermelon.
A great watermelon display, says Syngo, has different types of watermelons: Whole seedless, minis and pre-cut watermelon, all in the same area. “If a retailer really wants to move a high volume of watermelon, this display will be at the front of the produce department or the store itself.”
Telling the melon story
The single biggest way Syngo’s seeing retailers promote watermelon in store, is with signage about their growing partners. “More retailers are getting in contact with their suppliers and interviewing growers and getting photos of the grower so they can display them. Shoppers are looking for the human connection to who is producing their food [and] this is an easy way to give it to them.”
Telling the year-round watermelon story “aids in product transparency and trust, and is an opportunity to elevate the category,” points out Juliemar Rosado, director of retail and international marketing, the National Watermelon Promotion Board.
Other key information to include is how-to-select and health information. These are the two top components consumers would like to see displayed in the store, says Rosado, and this information can also be shared via retailers’ social and digital channels.
B&T’s Food Fresh Market in Millen, Ga., creates eye-catching watermelon displays every summer. Last year it placed third in the National Watermelon Promotion Board’s Retail Merchandising Contest.
Store manager Bobby Inman created a massive Disney-themed display about 25 feet into the store. A bounty of watermelons – some cut in half to show their insides — sat behind a red picket fence he painted. The display also featured giant watermelon posters with Disney characters that he purchased online. Balloons draw even more attention to the area, which stays up all summer.
There’s even a small section with topsoil, fake grass and watermelons, bringing a very natural feel to the area, showing how watermelons grow.
“This helps drive sales and attention to the store,” says Inman, who spent $1,200 on the display but will use it for several years.
Sol Marketing is continuing to invest in exclusive melon types, and finds retailers like them because they can promote the different attributes in texture, flavor and sweetness, Cassius pointed out.
“Different types inject excitement in the category,” he said. A popular type is the Sol Glow, which has orange insides and “a really nice juicy texture.” Sol Marketing has been growing this for two years and trialing it with some retailers. Other varieties include Dino, which is similar to honeydew with a white flesh, and another as-yet-unnamed variety that’s golden outside and deep orange on the interior.
Sol works with each retailer to market and merchandise these new types but finds fruit labels are helpful. “We differentiate the varieties with a label to make it exciting and tell consumers what they are, and hopefully we can engage customers.”