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Itaueira
Carlos Prado, owner of Itaueira Farms, and Rodrigo Lima, president of Crown International. (Photo by John Groh)

ATLANTA — Itaueira Farms, a Brazilian grower of Canary melons marketed under the “REI” brand, saw keen interest in its product at the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit convention, here, giving the company reason to believe that its planned expansion in the U.S. market will be a success.

Prior to this year, all “REI” melon shipments were received in Newark, NJ, and the majority of the product was sold on the East Coast. This year, Itaueira will send shipments directly to the West Coast, and it has signed a deal with Melissa’s/World Variety Produce in Los Angeles to handle the logistics and distribution in that region.

“We just reached the deal with Melissa’s at this show [in Atlanta],” said Rodrigo Lima, president of Miami-based Crown International USA, the North American marketing arm for Itaueira Farms. “With Melissa’s expertise in logistics and handling specialty items, we will be able to offer the melons at a very good price. That deal is set to start on November 20.”

The PMA Fresh Summit has been an effective venue for raising the profile of Itaueira’s melons. Last year at the 2010 PMA Fresh Summit in Orlando, FL, Itaueira distributed samples in plastic cups to convention attendees. The samples were so popular that the 4,000 cups were gone the first day and had to be replenished.

“This year, we decided to bring 6,000,” said Mr. Lima. “But they were so popular this year that we ran out again.”

Mr. Lima and Carlos Prado, owner of Itaueira Farms, told The Produce News that the melons have been catching on in the United States and other markets due to their growing reputation as a high-quality and flavorful melon, as well as the commitment to food safety by Itaueira Farms.

“There is an increased confidence in our product,” said Mr. Lima. “We currently have traceability by box [in the United States], but in Brazil we have traceability by unit, and that is doing very well. We plan to bring that system to the United States by next year, and that should increase confidence in our product even more.”

Mr. Lima said that one difference he noticed at this year’s PMA Fresh Summit was the presence of more attendees from Asia and the Middle East.

That opinion was echoed by Adriana Prado, Carlos Prado’s daughter, who was also at the booth.

“Yes, there were a lot of people from Japan and [South] Korea,” said Ms. Prado. “They were very excited about our melons, and they want to start importing them now.”

The “REI” melons sell well in Brazil, said Mr. Prado, but he said that he is looking to develop export markets as a way to hedge against economic downturns in his homeland. Melons for export are first quality and are marketed with a red netting as a way to help them stand out at retail.

Additionally, the melons have a big advantage of having a smooth skin, which does not trap pathogens, which has been a problem for some other melon varieties.