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Wada Farms extends watermelon season, hires new sales person

By
Rand Green

The Wada Farms Marketing Group LLC watermelon program has grown larger each year. “With our sweet potato program in the Carolinas, a lot of our growers that we work with over there grow several other commodities,” said Joe Esta, vice president of the  Idaho Falls, ID-based company. “We had a few of them ask us if we’d be interested in selling some of the items they were currently growing in a small fashion and wanting to expand.”

The first grower that approached Wada Farms about selling other items had a small acreage of watermelons, Esta said. “We sold what they had available that first year and it went relatively smoothly, so they asked if we wanted to increase for the next year.” Another farmer wanted to get in on the deal as well, and it has grown from there, even extending to other growing areas.

“We’ve started a full program on that now, and we would love to see it grow to be year-round,” he said.

The 2020 season went pretty well, and although the harvest was delayed, “we didn’t have any problem moving the crop,” he said.

Wada Farms has a fairly strong retail following, and “our retail business was up quite a bit on most everything we do,” he said, including watermelons. Even in foodservice, which struggled last year, “on the watermelon side, we have a huge following for foodservice and it all played together nicely.”

While it is “hard to guess what the marketing climate will be like for the coming season, it seems like things are starting to open up a little bit,” he said. “I would hope by the time our crop comes in June out of the Carolinas, movement will be back closer to normal. Planting will start within the next few weeks. From what I gather, our growers are going to plant with the hopes that everything is normal, whatever that may be. I don’t think they are going to cut back.”

Last year, Wada Farms worked with watermelon growers not just in North and South Carolina but also in Florida, Texas and Mexico, thus keeping the company in the market longer with its watermelon program. This year, Esta said he expects to have melons out of Georgia starting in May.

As the program expands, Wada Farms has hired a new employee to spearhead the watermelon sales and work with growers in different area to help extend the company’s shipping season even farther. Susi Anrig-Torigian currently lives in Florida, but she and her husband, who are originally from the Carolinas, are hoping to relocate to North Carolina sometime during the next year. She will work out of the Wada Farms sales office in Raleigh, NC. Currently, she is based in Tampa.

“She has a lot of years’ experience on the veg side and the fruit side,” Esta said.

Norman Brown, who works out of the Raleigh office as a sweet potato salesman, has been handling watermelon sales as well. “Norman is a great asset,” Esta said. “I have been working with him for at least 15 years.”

Brown said that although the harvest last year was as much as three weeks late in some locations, “it worked out well. The market seemed to stay pretty steady the whole time, and quality overall seemed to hold up very well.”

The Wada Farms watermelon program is primarily seedless, which is what most of his customers want, but “there are a few seeded around,” he said. The company also handles mini melons, and “those were a challenge to get our hand on last year,” he said. “We are hoping to play a bigger part in that this year.”

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In preparation of Cinco de Mango, the National Mango Board is offering a limited number of themed display bins to U.S. mango shippers on a first-come, first-served basis.
 
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