(Nov. 21) A clear pipeline and ample supplies of high-quality fruit have melon importers excited about the beginning of the Central American deal.

Fresh Quest Produce, Pompano Beach, Fla., received its first shipment of Guatemalan cantaloupes and honeydews in Miami the week of Nov. 20, said Lou Kertesz, vice president. Beginning in December, the company also plans to bring shipments in through ports at Long Beach, Calif., and Philadelphia.

“We started with a very positive situation,” Kertesz said. “The melons out west have completely dried out, and the weather in Guatemala has been outstanding. The markets right now are fairly strong, and they should hold pretty strong through December.”

Because Arizona finished shipping melons about two weeks earlier than usual, a supply gap emerged that made markets very strong, said Michael Warren, president of Central American Produce Inc., Pompano Beach, Fla. But Warren expected that to quickly change.

“Prices have been a little crazy, but they’ll straighten out in about two weeks,” he said Nov. 21.

Warren said the Central American melon deal should unfold in a more orderly manner than in the past, with Guatemala peaking in early December before yielding some ground to Costa Rica in January. The company also imports melons from Honduras, beginning in the middle of December this year, Warren predicted.

On Nov. 20, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $16.95-24.95 for one-half cartons of size 15 cantaloupes from California and Arizona, up from $10.35-12.35 last year at the same time.

Two-thirds cartons of size 4 honeydews from Mexico were $5.45-5.95, up from $4.35 last year at the same time.

Frontera Produce LLC, Edinburg, Texas, is in the second year of its Guatemalan melon deal, said Javier Gonzalez, melon category manager.

The deal started about a week late this year, Gonzalez said, giving the Arizona pipeline time to clear out before the import deal took over.

Markets were very strong at the beginning of the deal, Gonzalez said, maybe too strong.

“Everyone says the fields look pretty nice. The only unfortunate thing is prices are so high to start, which can mean you lose retail space,” he said.

Shipments will hit their first peak in early December, then moderate until March, when demand starts to “go nuts,” Gonzalez said. Frontera expects to bring in about 2,000 pallets a week, he said.

High prices on imported melons should settle soon