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Watermelon volume coming on full force; retailers can take advantage with in-store promotions

Georgia and north Florida watermelon growers are late to the game due to a cool spring, earlier season delays held back some of the Mexican and Texan crop, and California and Arizona are coming into their own as production ramps up in June. All that means the United States will be awash in watermelon from now through September, setting up ample opportunity for retailers to promote with abandon.

Heavy rains will likely keep Georgia growers out of the fields until mid-June, about two weeks behind the normal start of the deal. Arizona came on at the end of May. Around the country, demand was moderate but trading was active at slightly lower prices, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

As of May 23, seedless 35-60 count watermelon from Mexico was fetching about 20 cents per pound. Texas product was trading at about 28 cents, Florida 29-30 cents and California and Arizona 22 cents. After a cool, wet spring, consumers are primed for watermelon.

Prices in stores should be lower than last year, but even so, Gordon Hunt, director of marketing for the National Watermelon Promotion Board in Orlando, FL, said retailers can move more product by featuring watermelon at its per-pound price rather than per-unit.

“The good thing for the industry is that last year retailers did well even with prices being higher and a lot of them have followed up on what we’ve been encouraging them to do for the last three years: In cases where you think your prices may seem high, show it on a per-pound basis,” Hunt said.

Retailers this summer will have the opportunity to pick up business from shoppers who may not have watermelon on their list when they come in the store.

“The best thing you can do is show the per-pound price,” Hunt said. “If your internal quality is good, cut one, show it, you just can’t get around showing it — otherwise it’s a bin full of round green things. If you put a high [per-unit] price on it to boot, then it’s, ‘That’s not on my list, I don’t need it.’”

Equally important is having staff trained to help shoppers purchase perfect watermelons.

“As the percentage of people involved in agriculture or living in rural areas continues to drop, more are coming in not knowing where watermelon comes from, where it grows or how you tell when it’s good,” Hunt said. “It’s a constant relearning process that continues in our lineup of tools we offer to retailers. We will help train your people.”

Hunt travels regularly, visiting retailers around the country, and “you can tell the effective chains. I cannot tell you the difference it makes in a store if someone sees me gazing around and asks, ‘Can I help you?’ versus the one where there’s no one around to ask a question. You’ve got to have people there and they’ve got to be trained. If you see customers in the section and they’re gazing around, ask, ‘Is there something special you wanted to know?’ I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked where a watermelon is from, knowing full well, and been told, ‘I don’t know.’ Same thing with how to pick a good watermelon – pick it up and slap it and look for the yellow spot on the bottom.”