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As the watermelon season gains steam, Gordon Hunt, director of marketing for the Orlando, FL-based National Watermelon Promotion Board, is encouraging North American retailers to bring something new to watermelon displays by informing consumers of new shipping areas.

Mr. Hunt suggested that retailers can smooth watermelon sales -- and avoid the peaks and valleys of demand centered around national summertime holidays -- by attracting consumer interest with information on the fluidity of the seasonal watermelon deal. He equated this with wine connoisseur interest in a newly released French Beaujolais.

He further noted that, especially on the East Coast, watermelon sources regularly change, moving from Florida to Georgia, the Carolinas and on up the coast. There is no notable change in the melons per se, but Mr. Hunt said the simple change in sources could be of interest to consumers. This can be supported by signs such as "The Florida season is here!" This would simply be a "point of interest," he said. He agreed with the suggestion that in public relations terminology the change would be "a news hook."

Consumers will be especially pleased when the melons come from nearby locations, he added.

In an April 13 interview with The Produce News, Mr. Hunt said, "Hopefully the economy is getting better and the recession is fading. But," when grocery shopping, budget-conscious "consumers are sticking close to their list." Their attitude is "Give me a reason to buy something that is not on my list."

Mr. Hunt observed that for many years, retailers have not been interested in receiving point-of-sale materials from the industry, but that tool is again in demand within the effort to build impulse produce sales.

Another aspect of building watermelon sales in this economic climate, he said, is promoting the relatively "very low" cost per serving. While heavy watermelons give retailers a large ring at the cash register, they need to remind consumers that there are many inexpensive servings within a watermelon.

The National Watermelon Promotion Board last summer successfully presented a merchandising contest for produce managers. That effort will continue in 2010, "and definitely for July, which is National Watermelon Month."

Mr. Hunt said that the board is taking full advantage of having the Produce Marketing Association convention in Orlando this October. There are several advantages for the location. The NWPB is based in Orlando, and Florida is a major watermelon producer. Also, there are many produce managers in populous Florida who can attend the convention to learn about watermelons, as well as other produce industry benefits.

The promotion board will be capitalizing on all of these factors to have a high profile at the convention, Mr. Hunt said.

In another realm, Mr. Hunt this year will continue to explore cross- promotional opportunities between watermelons, other produce commodities and other foods that are complementary menu items. The "complementary" list is very long, he said, and the promotion board already has a lengthy recipe record tying into other foods. That recipe list can always be expanded, he added.

The NWPB already has researched many healthful benefits of watermelons and "we have a nagging feeling we need more." This ties into the ongoing challenge to give consumers more reasons to buy watermelons, he said. "Give me something specific" is a consumer mindset.

Mr. Hunt said that the board will continue to work with dietitian and television personality Elizabeth Somers to promote healthy eating.

(For more on watermelons, see the April 26, 2010, issue of The Produce News.)