Dutch exporter Levahrt has enlisted the help of produce seed specialist Rijk Zwaan in filling a supply gap for melons going to the Middle East.
Levarht, which consistently maintains short lines of communication with growers, Rijk Zwaan and retailers, aims to provide a year-round supply of high-quality products such as Caribbean melons.
In the Middle East, the company sources the Caribbean Gold RZ variety from late January until mid-May, while its Brazilian grower supplies the same variety from late-August through to January – but Levarht wasn't able to supply the market from May until late September.
"One of our joint projects is to achieve year-round availability of high-quality Canteloupe melons from the Caribbean range, because retialers in the Middle East want to offer their consumers the same melons throughout the entire year," said Levarht's Gerbert van Egmond.
"I mentioned this to Rijk Zwaan, and then last year, in close consultation, we started a pilot project with a Turkish grower to trial the Caribbean King RZ variety," he explained. "Turkey has the ideal climate for melon production and also has a favourable position geographically with respect to the Middle East."
The pilot project was necessary to build knowledge about production techniques, the right time to harvest, postharvest handling and logistics, according to van Egmond, a process that it far from simple and costs time and money to complete.
"Rijk Zwaan is supporting the grower in acquiring the knowledge," he noted. "Last year they visited José Lopez – grower of Caribbean melons in Honduras – together, and the Turkish grower also visited our retail customer in the Middle East to see how the melons are displayed in stores.
"All the activities are focused on being able to supply Caribbean melons with the same quality and flavour all year round, because if consumers know they can depend on that, they will buy the product more often – and that’s good for all the chain partners: Rijk Zwaan, the growers, us and the retailer. If this goes well, we expect to be able to offer a year-round supply of Caribbean to other sales markets in the future too.”
Rijk Zwaan's role
Turkey is one of the world’s biggest producers of melons, grown outdoors from May to September, with the local melon type, Kirkagaç, a particular favourite among consumers, although Galia is also sold there.
However, to stimulate the export of the fruit, local growers also need to produce varieties that are popular outside of Turkey.
"That’s why, in close consultation with Levarht, Rijk Zwaan has introduced the Caribbean King RZ variety in Turkey," the group said. "Just like all the other varieties in the Caribbean range, it has bright orange flesh, a high sugar content and a long shelf life."
Rijk Zwaan established the initial contact between the Turkish grower and the Dutch exporter and is now providing technical advice.
"If this project is a success, Turkey can further expand its melon export activities to countries such as Russia, Ukraine, the Balkans and the Middle East," the group added.