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Central America's melon production began just before holiday season

Barry Zwillinger spent a lot of time at Legend Produce’s growers down in Central America before the holiday season, and production has just started on cantaloupes and honeydew melons out of Honduras and Guatemala. Picking started on December 16 while he was there; produce is coming into the USA, received into California, Delaware and Florida. “The crop looks great this year,” he said. “Yields are much higher than what we’ve seen in the past years. The growing conditions and early weather at harvest time was better this year than in the last handful of years.” He anticipates higher yields for the first half of this year at the very least, as much as 20% more because of the growing conditions. 

Zwillinger heads down to the Americas a couple of times a year usually with the whole company (including the sales and marketing team) for the first few days of harvest so everyone gets to have a face-to-face interaction. “The growers and people in the fields can meet the people that actually do the sales and marketing here in the US. It gives everybody a chance to see the crop and get a good understanding of what we have coming into the US for the next three weeks.” 

Legend Produce is actively involved and partners with the farms down in Central America. They’ve had a strong relationship with [insert name here] in Honduras since 1992. Some of the staff and workers from Central America also meet with Zwillinger and other colleagues at various ports where the fruit is received to check quality control. “We can both look at it, see what came in from Central America and make sure everybody’s on the same page with the quality and expectation on volumes and keep them abreast on pricing,” he said.

Besides food safety and ensuring all product goes through a hot water bath to blanch off bacteria and also promote better shelf life, Zwillinger is strongly focused on producing a better eating piece of fruit. “Part of the problem with the melon category in general is growers and shippers, like the retailers, are focused on long shelf life and appearance and not as big of focus on flavour.” Their origami cantaloupe, grown in Arizona and California is high in flavour profile rather than just about Brix. “It eats fantastic, it’s consistent, has great flavour profile and separates us from the competition. They’re working on implementing a variety grown in Central America that will one day be similar to their origami variety. “Flavour and Brix to not correlate with each other,” he explained. He’s had melons Brix below 10 per cent that have lots of flavour and others 14 per cent but without good flavour.

Prices have been slightly below normal “and a bit below positive returns.” Zwillinger says they started off lower because the increased volume and the unexpected increase in yields that some people weren’t prepared for. He also says consumption is down. “I think cantaloupe consumption in the US has decreased because of poor quality eating fruit.” 

He’s excited about the winter season, however. “Our volume is increasing significantly. We’re going to be one of the leaders with overall volume for 2017.” They’re looking to expand the spring/summer program and contracts have increased for the origami cants. “Because of its flavour profile that’s enabled us to increase our production whereas some others are scaling back,” he said.

For more information:

Barry Zwillinger
Legend Produce
(602) 284-7330