(Sept. 3) A watermelon that can set on the palm of one hand is the first premium fruit and vegetable product a recently formed coalition of companies is releasing to consumers. To the organization that’s marketing the novel melons, size does matter.

The PureHeart seedless watermelon weighs 3 to 6 pounds, compared to the typical 20-pound seeded watermelon. NewPro, or the NewProduce Network, Boise, Idaho, markets the deep red colored and ultrasweet melon.

“It’s a great opportunity to try to reach out to the ultimate consumer and understand what their wants and desires are,” said Don Held, chairman of the board for The Produce Exchange, Livermore, Calif., one of four companies that founded NewPro. “Being able to come up with something this unique as a first item is a real plus.”

The fruit and vegetable shipper, broker and consolidator joined lettuce and vegetable grower-shipper Tanimura & Antle Inc., Salinas, Calif., crop and seed producer Syngenta Seed Inc., Boise, and produce industry consultants The Perishables Group Inc., Chicago, to form NewPro in 2001.

The company was formed to develop and introduce “ultimate eating” consumer products, said Bruce Axtman, president and chief executive officer of The Perishables Group.

The company, he said, will introduce one new item every six months. Neither Axtman nor Held would elaborate on fruit and vegetable products the organization plans to release.

The PureHeart melon, marketed under the Dulcinea brand, won’t be available outside of Seattle-area Quality Food Centers and Northern California Raley’s supermarkets for about six months to a year, according to a recorded telephone message at NewPro’s headquarters.

“We’re really working aggressively to build the story behind the brand and put together the specifics,” Axtman said.

NewPro has sold 5,000 35- to 38-pound cartons of the personal melons a week. The melons retail for $3.99 each.

“We have a somewhat deliberate and defined marketing approach we’re trying to follow,” Held said. “The worst thing we can do at this point is get ourselves spread out too thin.”

Held said the organization is working to refine its understanding of production characteristics and protocols to provide an orderly sales and marketing campaign.

“The current production we’re working with will take us through the end of October,” Axtman said. “It will be a question of how quickly we can ramp up to the next level of production. It’s a little up in the air depending on how aggressively we work with the growing areas.”

Three San Joaquin Valley growers are producing the melons.

Axtman said the organization has been working for a year and a half on the melon. Test marketing conducted in Northern California supermarkets last summer yielded positive reaction, Held said.

“There has been a lot of excitement at store level by store managers and consumers,” he said.

The company plans to resume production in the spring and continue through the rest of the year, Held said.