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SAN DIEGO -- Bolstered by recent research regarding health benefits of watermelon, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration has approved new health-related statements that the watermelon industry is now allowed to use in promoting its product, Mark Arney, executive director of the National Watermelon Promotion Board, headquartered in Orlando, FL, said during the 97th annual National Watermelon Association convention, held here Feb. 23-27.

The new statements will strengthen the industry's ability to make the case that regular consumption of watermelon as part of a balanced diet is good for one's health by making specific statements regarding the specific benefits that can be derived from specific vitamins and phytonutrients that are abundant in watermelon. According to Mr. Arney, the promotion board plans to stay on message with the health focus in its marketing and promotion campaigns.

New approved basic health statements include "Watermelon and other fruits filled with Vitamin A can help you see better" and "Watermelon contains Vitamin C. Fruits packed with Vitamin C can help you heal faster."

The presence of the amino acid citrulline in watermelon also provides health benefits, specifically with regard to heart health, and there are newly revised statements regarding heart health that have been approved for the industry to use in its promotional campaigns. Those statements include "Amino acid citrulline can help maintain blood flow within the heart" and "Increased consumption of citrulline cana help maintain cardiovascular function," followed by "Watermelon contains 672 mg citrulline per NLEA serving and is the primary source of citrulline in fruits and vegetables."

Mr. Arney also mentioned that additional research is currently in progress to determine whether watermelon may have some benefits with regard to HIV prevention and prevention of skin damage.

The remarks were made during the National Watermelon Promotion Board's board of directors meeting held Feb. 26 in conjunction with the NWA convention.

In his presentation, Mr. Arney reviewed the highlights of an industry strategic planning meeting held last November, stating that among the major trends that will influence the success of the watermelon category are an increased emphasis on healthy eating among consumers, continued consumer health education, and consumers' buy-in of the favorable health message for watermelons.

One of the major activities that takes place at the National Watermelon Association convention each year is the selection and coronation of the new National Watermelon Queen. Named 2011 queen was Whitney Leah Conner, 21-year-old daughter of Ronnie and Debbie Conner of Abbeville, GA. Miss Conner, a recent graduate of Abraham Agricultural College, served as 2010 Georgia Watermelon Queen. She was crowned by the reigning 2010 National Watermelon Queen, Jessica Lauren Southard.

Also in contention for the crown were the 2010 Alabama Watermelon Queen, Kimberly Alaina McCay; the 2010 Florida Watermelon Queen, Shelley Catherine Allen; the 2010 Illiana Watermelon Queen, Sylvia Lane Crower; the 2010 Mar-Del Watermelon Queen, Parris Anne Travers; the 2010 North Carolina Watermelon Queen, Madelyn Briana Varner; the 2010 South Carolina Watermelon Queen, Meredith Blair Boozer; and the 2010 Texas Watermelon Queen, Mariana Perez.

An industry panel discussion during the Feb. 26 breakfast session featured panelists Tom Nassif, president of Western Growers Assocation; Mike Stuart, president of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association; Robert Keeney of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Marketing Service; and Bob Morrissey, executive director of the National Watermelon Association.

The panel addressed a range of issues of concern to the industry such as immigration and guest-worker program issues, specialty crop block grants under the farm bill, food safety legislation and health care legislation.