Known best for its bell peppers, Prime Time International in Coachella, CA, also grows, packs and ships other produce commodities, and one of those is watermelons, which the company has been doing for 20 years, according to Mike Aiton, marketing manager for Prime Time Sales LLC, the exclusive marketing agent for Prime Time International.
“We are a seasonal watermelon player. We only have watermelon in the Coachella Valley here in the spring,” Mr. Aiton said. “We grow primarily seedless, but we do have seeded watermelon as well.”
The main competition Prime Time faces in the watermelon business during that period is from northern Mexico and California’s Imperial Valley. “But we have been able to carve out a nice little niche for ourselves based on our length of time in the business,” he said. “We have a good following on both the retail and wholesale side.”
It has been “a very consistent program” over the past two decades,” Mr. Aiton said. “I think our guys really were in on the ground floor of this seedless watermelon program, so they have had as much experience as anybody.”
All the watermelons are grown, harvested and packed by Prime Time, “so we have complete control from beginning to end,” he said.
The watermelons are all packed in a packinghouse, where they are run over a packingline, “sorted and separated by size and automatically graded” and those with defects are “kicked out,” he said. “One of the appealing parts of our program is we are very consistent” in sizing the watermelons. “We can dial it in to very specific ranges based on what our customers’ requirements are,” Mr. Aiton said.
The watermelons are predominantly packed in bins. At that time of year, “that is the retailers’ preferred method,” he said. “They all have a different count requirement, so that is where the sizer comes in handy in putting a specific count in the bins.” The most popular sizes are 36-count and 48-count. “Those seem to be what most retailers prefer.”
The harvest this year was expected to start the week of May 5, “and we will be in peak production for the Memorial Day pull, which is a good thing for us,” Mr. Aiton said March 26. “We really hit a nice window there.” Shipping usually continues until close to the Fourth of July. “I feel confident in saying that we will go into late June,” he continued, and “if all goes well, we will be able to get involved in that second holiday as well.”
Most of Prime Time’s watermelons stay in the western United States, from Denver west, he said.
Acreage is down slightly this year, he said. “But we are optimistic we can make up for that volume-wise with increased yields. As of right now, the crop looks very nice. The quality is good. There are no problems. But obviously there is more than a month to go before we start cutting and seeing what it is like on the inside.”