One of the newest members of the the 3,900-strong Fresh Produce Industry Discussion Group asked a timely question this week:

"I would like to hear from the members of the group their expectations on melons consumption in the USA this coming domestic season."

Can the melon market come all the way back?Indeed, can the melon industry - and particularly cantaloupe marketers - have a strong "bounce back" year? I would assume they are planning to do so, but it will be interesting to see how much acreage was trimmed to allow for some residual effect from last year's listeria outbreak linked to Colorado cantaloupe.

The voluntary recall of cantaloupes linked to the outbreak was issued in mid-September last year by Holly, Colo.-based Jensen Farms.   For the four weeks ending Oct. 29, Nielsen reported retail sales and retail volume of cantaloupe were off 53%.   The entire melon category showed a volume decline of 31% and a sales decline of 33% for the four-week period.

Those darkest of days are over now. It is certain the industry is doing all it can to address food safety standards related to cantaloupe. The first of several web seminars was held yesterday, and here is the account of the meeting from Western Growers.

From the April 10 news release:

Today, the first developmental webinar session for National Cantaloupe Guidance was held.  It was conducted by Intertox Staff Scientist Susan Leaman with the assistance of Diane Wetherington, executive vice president of Intertox. Participants collaborated to review and refine the objective(s) and scope of the project and began the editing and development of the Draft Commodity-Specific Food Safety Guidelines for Melons. This is being used as a foundational document for discussion and editing during the webinars.  It is available on the Documents page of the website  where comments will also be welcomed and gathered. Others participating today include: Allison Moore Communications Director Fresh Produce Association of the America's; Dr Bob Whitaker Chief Science and Technology Officer Produce Marketing Association; Dr. Dave Gombas Senior Vice President Food Safety and Technology United Fresh Produce Association; Hank Giclas Senior Vice President, Science Technology and Strategic Planning Western Growers.

Webinars will continue every Tuesday at 9:00 a.m. PDT (12:00 EDT). Each webinar will last one hour and focus on one topic area, allowing attendees to participate in discussions that align with their expertise.  Please go to the website to register and receive updates and information on future webinars, events, documents, news and to provide comments. If you have any questions, please contact WG's Hank Giclas at (949) 885-2205.

Completion of a draft of cantaloupe food safety guidance will be available for review by leading industry regulatory and academic scientists on Aug. 1, 2012.


TK: Like the effect on hamburger consumption of all the publicity over "pink slime," cantaloupe marketers were hammered last year by the listeria outbreak. The produce industry is making all the right moves to address food safety concerns, but I wonder if a stronger public relations effort promoting melons may be needed to bring demand all the way back.

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