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By the third week of December, Central American melons will be plentiful enough to have good promotional opportunities for retailers, according to Mike Shields, director of new business development for Central American Produce Inc. in Pompano Beach, FL.

Mr. Shields said that the Guatemalan melon crop that is beginning the season is "excellent, and everyone we have shipped to has had nothing but rave reviews."

Louis Kertesz, vice president of Fresh Quest Inc., which is also located in Pompano Beach, on Nov. 29 verified the high quality of early Central American melons and noted that he had never seen such high sugars so early in the deal.

Both Mr. Kertesz and Mr. Shield indicated that the total melon volume from Central America will be down this year, and both expect an orderly marketing season.

Mr. Shields said that the industry consensus is that “some people brought down” their Central American melon volume “to some degree. We should have a steady supply, steady pricing and good quality all the way through.”

Mr. Kertesz said that the industry's melon volume is expected to be “down quite a bit of a percentage. This should hold a strong, steady market throughout the holidays. If there is a glut for the holidays after the first cycle” when new production from Honduras comes in, “we feel the market will spike back up.”

There are fewer growers in Honduras, and Costa Rican melon production is expected to be lighter this year, Mr. Kertesz said. In the end, “there will be a more stable, consistent market than previous years.”

Central American melon prices in late November were at least $10 per carton higher than the start of the 2009 deal, when carton prices were in the $5 to $7 range. Mr. Kertesz explained that Guatemala’s early melon prices were boosted this year because the domestic deal was virtually over when the offshore deal began. Last year, domestic melons were on the market through the end of December.

Mr. Kertesz said that another boost to the U.S. melon market is demand from Europe for Central American fruit, which is short on melon supplies because of decreased Brazilian melon production.

Charlie Eagle, vice president of business development for Southern Specialties Inc. in Pompano Beach, said of the Central American vegetable deal, “We’re coming into a good time of year. We are getting ready to get into the main thrust of the sno pea and sugar snap business. We expect to have plenty of sno peas for the Chinese New Year,” which is Feb. 3 in 2011.

(For more on offshore melons, see the Dec. 13, 2010, issue of The Produce News.)