Domestic watermelon production a sweet sign of summer

Domestic watermelon production is set to kick in high gear for the summer months according to data gathered by the National Watermelon Promotion Board. “Most folks realize that watermelon is the king of Independence Day,” Jason Hanselman, industry affairs associate, told The Produce News. “But our second most important time of the year is the lead up to Memorial Day. Our shippers strive to get as much product into stores as they can for this important holiday that generally marks the beginning of summer for us folks up North.”

The snapshot of domestic production from the period April 1 through June 1 shows the following forecasted volumes: Florida/499.7 million pounds; Texas/150.5 million pounds; California/59.5 million pounds; Arizona/14.6 million pounds; and Georgia/3.3 million pounds.

During this period, Mexico is forecasted to export 523.8 million pounds. Volume exported by Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama tails off at this time.

“The Memorial Day buildup peaks at close to 45 million pounds per day,” Hanselman said. “At 16 pounds per watermelon, you’re talking close to 3 million individual watermelons sold on a single day. Florida is the biggest contributor for the holiday. But Texas is usually fully up to speed by then to help offset the decline on Mexican imports. California and Arizona are also shipping at that time to help supply west of the Rockies.”

Hanselman was asked to provide some observations regarding seeded versus seedless watermelons. “We’re seeing slow growth of seedless continuing to take market share,” he replied. “We saw a big jump last year after some slow progress in the four years prior. I imagine we will reach a point where seedless kind of reaches a ceiling, and I could even see a bit of a giveback this year after such a tremendous jump. But the fact of the matter is that consumers continue to demand seedless watermelon.”

He provided a recap about first quarter watermelon shipments during 2015 based on data from the Agricultural Marketing Service News Portal. “We’re nearly mirroring last year after the first quarter with volume up just slightly and prices essentially the same,” Hanselman said. “While prices aren’t as high as 2012 or 2013, we are seeing a lot more movement these past two years.”

Guatemala “was the big winner” during the first quarter, exporting 46 million more pounds, slightly more than double its prior movement. Hanselman said Mexican exports increased 28 million pounds, and Panama's export volume was nearly triple. “Costa Rica was down the most as we barely got anything from them when we usually get around seven million pounds,” he said.

Looking at trends from 2010 through 2014, Hanselman said, “We see a pretty linear incline here as showing that movement has steadily been above the norm and not a scenario of fits and starts where we see overproduction followed by a shortage of watermelon. This slow and steady approach may give a better ability to project future pricing because if we know that we’re, say, 15 percent above average across the board, then we’re seeing more predictability, which makes it easier to project future pricing.”

Summing up first quarter movement, he said, “We see that movement was above average for almost every week of the quarter and that this recent take off, while not the fastest acceleration of movement due to last year’s rocketing start, is still very strong as compared to previous years.”

Mexico’s grape industry foresees a bright future

The future of Mexico’s grape industry “is very strong,” in the view of Jerry Havel, the director of sales and marketing for Fresh Farms, in his office in Rio Rico, AZ.  

Mexico consistently produces grapes that are “very sweet and large in size year in and year out.  The grape quality is outstanding.”

Specifically of the coming season, he said, “I am looking forward to another great year.”

The industry indicates that green Mexican grape shipping will begin about May 5. The deal will last until about July 4.  

Carlos Bon, Jr, a partner in Grupo Alta, based in Hermosillo, Sonora, and its marketing arm, Divine Flavor, LLC, indicated, “It’s a normal Mexican season.  There is a lot of Chilean fruit still around,” he said April 2.  

“It is in the interest of our company and the Mexican industry’s interest to promote grapes from the get-go and invite our customers and consumers to switch from old grape varieties in a different hemisphere to fresh grapes grown nearby.”  

According to a December 2014 USDA Foreign Agriculture Service report, Mexico is the Western Hemisphere’s fourth-largest grape exporter. Chile, the United States and Peru, respectively, lead Mexican grape export volume.  

Including 2014-15 estimates, Chile has averaged exporting 810,000 metric tons of grapes since the 2009-10 season.  The United States has averaged exporting 358,000 metric tons in the same time period.  

Chile, the United States and Mexico have both shown seasonal ups and downs but not a great change in annual export volumes in the six-season period.

Peru, on the other hand, has steadily increased from 75,000 metric tons of exports in 2009-10 to an estimated 290,000 metric tons for the 2014-15 season.

Mexico has averaged 151,000 metric tons of grape exports in the six year period.  

Indications from the trade to The Produce News are that new varieties and plantings will bring a fast growth in production and exports in coming years.

These and other related matters will be discussed April 22-24 in Hermosillo, Sonora, at the annual grape marketing meeting presented by Asociación Agricola Local de Productores Uva de Mesa Frutas y Hortalizas, (A.A.L.P.U.M.), which is the Sonoran Spring Grape Association. The Produce News will be providing the latest news from this event.

Publix continues to expand in N.C.

Publix Super Markets Inc. and Lowes Foods LLC have announced the companies have entered into an agreement under which Publix is expected to purchase two closed and vacant Lowes Foods stores in North Carolina. The transaction is projected to close later in April.

“We’ve opened eight stores in North Carolina within the past year, solidifying our commitment to growth within the state," Ed Crenshaw, chief executive officer of Publix, said in a press release. “Our associates continue to provide customers with premier service, quality products and an enjoyable shopping experience. As the largest employee-owned supermarket in the nation, our associates are passionate about serving customers, and meeting and exceeding their expectations. Our service-oriented culture is continuing to foster a loyal customer following in North Carolina and across all our market areas.”

"As a homegrown grocer serving our guests in the Carolinas since 1954, we continue to be excited about the future of Lowes Foods," Lowes Foods President Tim Lowe said in the release. "The sale of these closed and vacant store locations is part of our comprehensive growth strategy that includes accelerating investment in rebranding existing stores, building new stores and evaluating strategic marketplace opportunities."

Vision Produce's Phoenix facility goes solar

This April, Vision Produce Co. is installing a solar power generation system at its produce distribution center in Phoenix, which also includes offices for its Arizona sales and operational staff. It is expected to supply 59 percent of the electricity Vision Produce consumes in Phoenix every year.

The new system will include 1,930 solar panels and use a roof-friendly mounting structure that doesn't penetrate the roof,Bill-VogelBill Vogel and by summer it will generate 377,580 kilowatt-hours per year, which will mitigate annual emissions of 260 metric tons of carbon dioxide, equivalent to 55 passenger vehicles, 620,000 driven miles or 29,200 gallons of gasoline every year.

During the summer months, the solar system will even produce a surplus of energy, which will be sold back to the Salt River Project, one of Arizona's larger utility companies.

"Because of having so many sun days during the calendar year in Phoenix, it just seems like the logical thing to do," Bill Vogel, president of Vision Produce Co., said in a press release.

Vision is funding the cost of this $536,000 enterprise with support from JP Morgan Chase, as a commitment to sustainability, preservation of the environment and expected cost savings in power usage over the long term.

The company said it was attractive financially despite Salt River's recent action to end its net metering policy for commercial solar projects. Salt River is also due to contribute an incentive of $9,960. For the execution of this program Vision partnered with Wilson Electric, which has installed over 60 megawatts of solar power in Arizona and New Mexico.  

The First Solar Cadmium Telluride solar modules being installed in this project are well fit to work in the Arizona desert, as the nature of its thin film technology enables it to produce more energy per rate watt due to its superior performance above rated temperatures.

Frieda’s Angelcot season set for mid-June

Frieda’s Specialty Produce’s exclusive Angelcots, which it describes as “heavenly white apricots,” are only available for three weeks starting in mid-June.angelcot This specialty hybrid of Moroccan and Iranian apricot varieties is grown in Northern California and packed in 16/one-pound clamshells.

Angelcots’ pale-yellow skin — with a pale-peach blush — is covered with a fine, velvety fuzz. According to the company, the fruit has the right balance of acid and sugar, along with a buttery, perfume-like sweetness. Angelcots have the juiciness of the ripest nectarine and the delicate texture and aroma of an apricot, with floral and tropical notes. Angelcots are also rich in vitamins A and C, as well as being a good source of fiber.

Interested retailers, wholesalers, and foodservice distributors can contact Frieda’s for promotional ideas, marketing tools, product information and high-resolution images to assist with any marketing needs.