KIWANO MELONS:
CARE: Store at room temperature up to three months. Do not refrigerate.
NUTRITIONAL VALUE: Kiwano melons are high in potassium and a good source of niacin.
AVAILABILITY: Year-round

PEPINO MELONS:
CARE: Keep at room temperature to ripen to golden, then refrigerate. Shelf life of ripened fruit is three days.
NUTRITIONAL VALUE: Pepino is a good source of vitamins A, B and C.
AVAILABILITY: Year-round

(Feb. 20) Kiwano and pepino melons are two exotic fruits with unique appearances and mild tastes.

A native of tropical Africa, kiwano was once cultivated only in New Zealand. It is now commercially grown in California as well. The outside of the kiwano inspires its second name, the horned melon. It is bright orange and covered with thin spikes. Inside, kiwano melon has a soft jellylike green flesh with many edible seeds. A member of the cucumber family, kiwano tastes mildly sweet. It can be eaten out of hand, in fruit salads or added as a garnish to meat dishes. Because of the outer shell’s unique appearance, it can be used as decoration or as a serving dish for fruit dips or ice cream after the pulp is scraped out.

The pepino melon hails from Chile, Peru and Colombia and is commercially grown in New Zealand and California. Called “pepino dulce” or “sweet cucumber” in its native lands, the pepino tastes like a combination of cantaloupe and cucumber, according to Los Alameda, Calif.- based Frieda’s Inc.’s pepino fact sheet. Outside, the fruit is a 4- to 6-inch long oval fruit with green to yellow skin striped with purple.

Both melons are generally available year-round, although the selection may be light at certain times of year, depending on growing conditions.

WHAT TO DO

Because these melons are not well known in the U.S., heavy merchandising is needed to sell them. Suppliers may offer extensive support materials to help draw customers in to these fruits. Melissa’s World Variety Produce Inc. Los Angeles, offers retailers sign cards that identify the fruits, price cards, information on care and uses and customized signs. Because of its Latin origins, pepino can be successfully displayed with other Latin favorites like plantains, papaya, mango and red bananas, says Robert Schueller, assistant marketing director for Melissa’s. Kiwano can be displayed with other colorful exotic fruits like cherimoya and lychees. It’s important that everyone in the produce department knows what the fruits taste like and how to use them so they can answer customer questions.

“It’s very important to attract those who are not familiar to tell them what to do with it,“ Schueller says. “No one’s going to buy a product if they don’t know what to do with it.”

Frieda’s offers support information for retailers on its Web site. Produce managers can enter a password protected area of the site and print a fact sheet to post in their produce department, including use and storage information. Frieda’s Web site also includes recipes like chicken salad with horned melon, or melon with minted horned melon sauce, says director of marketing Tristan Millar. She suggests displaying the melons in an exotic fruit set with kiwi and passion fruit.

TRY SAMPLING

“Anything to attract the eye. Bigger is always better. Put out a lot of fruit rather than just a couple. Sampling is always a good idea,” she says.

At B&R Stores Inc., a 16-store chain based in Lincoln, Neb., the produce departments create their own market for pepino and kiwano melons, says produce director Randy Bohaty. He works with the stores’ supplier, Melissa’s, to determine the best times throughout the year for taste and price and schedules big promotions at those times. The promotions increase sales from a case a week to 12 to 15 cases a week during a promotion. Some of these are sold to customers; others are used in the store for sampling. “It takes the risk out of buying by lowering the price, letting them taste it and letting them know what the item is,” Bohaty says.

During promotions, Bohaty sets up 15- to 20-case attention-grabbing displays in high-traffic areas. He uses point-of-sale materials provided by Melissa’s. The store offers samples and usually reduces the price to sell the melons at cost, he says. This reduces prices from an average of $3.66 each to a low price of around $2.50 each. This way, customers become familiar with the fruit and are more likely to buy.

A lack of promotion is the major problem with kiwano and pepino sales at Mollie Stone’s Markets in Sausalito, Calif, says produce manager Tom Miller. Most people don’t know what the melons are, and they are too expensive for his store to do sampling, he says. He says produce suppliers should contact the buyers to get POS materials out to them so retailers have a better way to increase awareness.

Miller suggests displaying pepino and kiwano melons with star fruit or Chilean fruit like cherries, peaches and apricots. He sells them for $5.99 to 7.99 a pound.

FAILING TO GET ALONG

One problem with displaying kiwano can be the very attribute that makes them so unique. The spikes on the melons will poke holes in one another unless there’s a divider between them, says Richard Zegil, produce manager at Queen Anne Thriftway in Seattle, one of three stores.

Queen Anne’s doesn’t display the melons year-round. When the store does carry them, they are displayed with other melons like cantaloupe and honeydew. The highest sales are around Thanksgiving, and some customers use the melons, especially kiwano, for decoration, Zegil says.

Despite these problems, kiwano and pepino melons add a unique and intriguing appeal to the produce department, Bohaty says. At B&J stores, the produce department’s world variety section — including pepino melons, kiwano melons and other exotic items — helps build the store’s image as an exciting, stimulating place to shop.

“It’s to get people talking and thinking, ‘I’ve never seen that before. I wonder what else they have.’ It adds a little excitement to their shopping visit and makes them a little more curious,” Bohaty says.

Even though he doesn’t see kiwano and pepino melons becoming staples in the United States anytime soon, displaying them is a point of difference that helps distinguish his store from the competition.