The listeria outbreak first linked to Colorado cantaloupe in September had a devastating effect on the entire U.S. melon category in October, statistics from the Perishables Group reveal.
“It certainly appears that a fair number of consumers reacted to the recall not just by avoiding cantaloupe but by reducing the purchases of all melons,” Steve Lutz, executive vice president of West Dundee, Ill.-based Perishables Group said in an e-mail.
The voluntary recall of cantaloupes linked to the outbreak was issued in mid-September by Holly, Colo.-based Jensen Farms.
Cantaloupes were the hardest hit of all melon categories measured in October, but all shared in the pain, retail data reveal.
For the four weeks ending Oct. 29, the Perishables Group 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.
Meanwhile, specialty melon volume was off 33%, honeydew volume was off 15% and watermelon volume was down 17% in October.
Chris Greczkowski, produce manager for Better Val-U Supermarkets Inc., Lisbon, Conn., said demand for cantaloupe was still “way off” in early December, though seasonal factors may have something to do with that.
“Demand is still terrible for cantaloupe,” she said.
She said fresh-cut cantaloupe and whole cantaloupe suffered about equally.
On the other hand, Greczkowski said watermelon sales did not suffer at her stores.
She predicts cantaloupe demand could rebound by next spring.
“I think by next spring it will be the right time of year, and people will have forgotten,” she said.
That may be too optimistic, some industry leaders believe.
With many retail customers reporting cantaloupe sales down from 40% to 50% soon after the listeria outbreak, Mike Martori, sales manager for Martori Farms, Scottsdale, Ariz. said next year’s cantaloupe demand expectations could be off from 10% to 30%.
Martori said the firm was done with harvest in Arizona in early December as demand shifted to imported melons.
“Supplies were lighter than they have been in years past,” he said.
Given the level of supply, Arizona cantaloupe shippers would have expected f.o.b. prices to be in the mid-teens rather than the $8-10 per carton trading range this fall.
“I don’t think anything ever really recovered. It was only because there was such light volume relative to years past that markets didn’t totally collapse on us,” Martori said.