NEW ORLEANS — Following in the footsteps of its Melorange-brand charentais melon, Monsanto’s Seminis vegetable breeders are working to develop a line of specialty melons that have extended shelf life as well as good flavor.
Many of the varieties are designed to be grown during the Southern Hemisphere’s summer season and exported to the U.S. during the winter. Others are being bred to bring variety to the summer melon deal.
“We’re early in the business of establishing relationships with growers and retail partners to work in concert to bring them into the marketplace,” said Eduardo Ayala, consumer trait account and chain manager, Woodland, Calif.
Monsanto representatives showed off the varieties and provided samples to the media and select grower-shippers at the the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit Oct. 20.
During the summer, the melon market typically comprises about 85% cantaloupe and 15% honeydew, Ayala said.
“But that’s not necessarily reflective of what the market wants — that’s just what’s available,” he said.
Drawing from consumer research and development and sensory panel work, the company sought to better understand the components of flavor.
Although brix is definitely an important part of the equation, Ayala said aroma, mouth feel, crunchiness and juiciness also play into the mix.
In the past, winter melon varieties were bred for a long shelf life because they had to endure a long trip from the Southern Hemisphere and still be marketable when they reached the U.S. But flavor, which is a difficult trait to breed for, frequently was lost.
“We know that taste during the wintertime is something that resonated with consumers,” he said.
In taste tests, consumers preferred Melorange to another winter melon 83% to 17%, Ayala said. In another taste test, two-thirds favored Corsica HaOgen, a Galia-type melon, over cantaloupe.
Unlike many melons that are sold as a generic commodity, Melorange actually is a brand, and the fruit carry stickers identifying them as such.
The varieties in Monsanto’s pipeline have a long shelf life as well as agronomic characteristics to make them profitable to grow, said Johnny McIntier, a cucurbit technology development representative based in Yuma, Ariz.
At the same time, breeders have reintroduced taste.
“I think it offers retailers many choices and ultimately, the consumer wins,” Ayala said.