Memorial Day is the first big push for watermelons this season. Companies call it ‘The Memorial Day Pull,’ where harvest and packing are ramping up for consumers who want watermelon to kick off their summer. We talked to a company producing the crop.
Prime Time International is busy, loading and packing watermelons quickly for its first big holiday of the season.
“For Prime Time, our target is Memorial Day. So, we try to start May 1 and end by the middle of June, and have peak production for that first watermelon big holiday of the summer,” says Prime Time International Director of Marketing Mike Aiton.
Florida, Georgia, Texas and California make up almost half of U.S. watermelon production. But this Prime Time location in Coachella, Calif., has an advantage. It’s one of the first on the market each season, loading roughly 1,800 bins of watermelons per day, shipping up and down the West Coast, even into Canada.
“When we start, our real competition is really from Mexico. With that big Memorial Day holiday coming up, it’s a great target for us and time for us to be in the watermelon business,” says Aiton.
He says the 2016 season is going well. Heat is hitting at the right time, with few harvest delays due to rain or wind.
Now the focus is distribution. As the crop makes its way onto a belt, a machine looks inside the watermelon to make sure it’s ripe, and with no hollow heart. It’s kicked off the belt based on weight. That insures retailers receive the same size in each bin.
“The consistent size is the same in every bin. That enables the retailer to sell a watermelon for $3.99, and every one of them will be that same size,” says Aiton.
Size and variety are all important to retailers as trends change. “Right now there’s more interest in a size 60, which weighs about 12 pounds," he says. "That’s probably because it enables a retailer to get to a smaller price-point. Perhaps consumers want to take the whole watermelon home and eat the whole thing without throwing half of it away."
USDA says seedless varieties are also seeing demand. Seedless watermelon shipments in the United States increased from 51% in 2003 to 83 percent in 2012.
“Seedless has taken off the past dozen years or so," Aiton says. "It’s just continuing to grow in consumption."
"Mini Sweet Watermelons," which are 5 pounds to 6 pounds, are also growing in popularity with retailers and consumers.
Watermelon Companies Distribute in a Hurry for Memorial Day