DALLAS — The 96th annual National Watermelon Association Convention, Feb. 17-21 at the Fairmont Dallas Hotel, broke all-time records for attendance and auction success, said NWA executive director Bob Morrissey.

Association members spent the long weekend catching up with old friends and learning about NWA and National Watermelon Promotion Board efforts to continue to expand international markets and cash in on value-hungry consumers.

National Watermelon Association enjoys record-breaking convention

Dan Galbraith

Gordon Hunt (left), of the National Watermelon Promotion Board, and 2009 NWA queen Maggie Bailey, pose for photos after awarding John Foley (second from left) and Don Erskine of Ontario, Canada-based Metro Arnprior, with awards for winning the NWA's first retail display contest. The award was presented Feb. 20 at the NWA Convention in Dallas.

And now is the time to increase market share, watermelon industry representatives said.

The watermelon industry has already proven its creative ability to spark recessionary sales, said Gordon Hunt, marketing director for the Orlando, Fla.-based National Watermelon Promotion Board, and he is eager for that to continue.

For example, Hunt said, in 2009, the board was quick to jump on an opportunity to cross-promote watermelon with Vidalia onions, of all things, on a watermelon salsa promotion.

“These guys were the first with their eyes to light up and say, ‘Ooooh!’” Hunt said. “And if it’s moving more of our product, then terrific.”

At the end of the promotion board meeting, the board voted, nearly unanimously, to continue to increase the budget for its fiscal reserves.

Mark Arney, executive director for the board, said the board had already increased its reserves from $100,000 to $500,000 over the last two years to try to comply with a 1996 decision the board made but initially didn’t follow through on, to combat inflation and guard against any potential national safety crisis that could occur.

Members of the board agreed Feb. 20 to increase the reserve fund to $626,000 for the 2010-11 fiscal year, even though watermelon is widely considered one of the safest produce commodities, in large part due to its thick rind.

However, as one grower in the crowd put it, if a food safety emergency involving watermelon would arise, even “$600,000 wouldn’t go very far these days.”