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Garden Fresh gearing up for watermelon program

In early March, Chip Jetter, president of Garden Fresh Distribution Service Inc. in Pompano Beach, FL, said that the company was gearing up to start its watermelon program in early April.

“We’re about to get real busy,” said Mr. Jetter. “We jokingly call the period from the first of May through July 4 the ‘100-day war’ because it is when the demand is the strongest. Watermelon consumption is directly related to the weather. If it’s 90 degrees, people are eating watermelon.”

Garden Fresh’s Florida watermelon movement rolls through south Florida, Plant City, St. Augustine and then wraps up Florida in Wauchula. A smooth transition into Georgia, the Carolinas and Delaware, and then following the season back south along the same route, ensures no gaps.

garden-FreshChip Jetter“The domestic season wraps up around late November, and our offshore season begins,” said Mr. Jetter. “Growing conditions in Florida had been ideal up until the first week of March. February was one of the hottest on record — truly a beautiful time to be in Florida. But the start of March brought us one of the coldest snaps in history. All Florida crops — especially in the mucklands in the center of the state-were affected. Even the Tampa and Sarasota areas reported damage of varying degrees.”

Mr. Jetter explained that damage caused by a late cold snap can affect plants in numerous ways, depending on what stage of growth the plant is in. Sometimes the bees don’t do their job if it’s too cold, for example. Extremely cold conditions can “downright kill the plants.” Such conditions typically result in some level of movement gap.

“But that’s not all a bad thing because gaps also help to firm up prices,” he said. “Some people were talking about having watermelons the first week of March, but that’s not going to happen. It’s never good for one seasonal movement jump on top of another. A little gap in movement will help to put people back in the cycle where they belong.”

In early March, Garden Fresh was preparing for its mango program from Guatemala to start, while Kent variety mangos from Peru were winding down. Its Costa Rican program began the last week of February and will run into early May. The company then transitions into Mexico for mangos.

“We start Brazilian mangos in the summer when the Mexican program finishes,” said Mr. Jetter. “We then move to Ecuador and Peru, then to Nicaragua and Costa Rica, followed by Guatemala. Then the cycle starts all over for year round supplies.”

Besides its Pompano Beach location, Garden Fresh operates a Glassboro facility in New Jersey, where it repacks watermelons and handles rejected product. Mr. Jetter’s father, Chris Jetter, runs the company’s New Jersey operation.

“My uncle Merv, who was our partner, has retired,” noted Mr. Jetter. “My dad and I are now running the show.”