Sweet success for 'sunburst' melon
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser West O'ahu Writer
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
KAPOLEI — A new variety of cantaloupe has caught the eye — and tastebuds — of local fruit lovers.
And officials at Aloun Farms hope they can capitalize on the popularity of the "sunburst melon" by producing a larger crop next summer.
Developed from a seed that originated from an unidentified location in Asia, what the Aloun folks have nicknamed "the sunburst melon" has a distinctively creamier flavor.
Tish Uyehara, director of marketing for Armstrong Produce, one of the state's leading fresh fruit and vegetable wholesalers, said the sunburst has caught on with local supermarket chains.
"It has a nice fragrance, the sweetness level is a lot more softer and delicate in flavor," Uyehara said. "The taste is not as strong."
"It's not as pungent," said Tony Aki, produce buyer for Don Quijote stores in Hawai'i. "It's definitely a very sweet and kind of lighter kind of cantaloupe."
While more than 95 percent of the island's cantaloupes still come from the Mainland, Mexico or other offshore sources, Aloun has been able to carve a niche for itself with its sunburst variety that began showing up at local supermarkets in late spring.
Aki said despite the sunburst being a new product, customers have even begun to ask for it by name.
"They're beginning to realize the difference between this one and the regular cantaloupe," he said. "In the beginning, I was a little concerned that we'd have a hard time marketing it and being able to ask a higher price for it, that it would end up getting sold as a (regular) cantaloupe."
What's also made the locally grown sunburst variety more attractive is its smoothly netted outer skin and firmer and juicier flesh that makes it heartier than the garden variety cantaloupe from the Mainland.
While the typical cantaloupe will retain its freshness for about a week refrigerated, the sunburst can last up to three weeks, said Mike Sou, Aloun's vice president of production.
"It holds up really, really well," said Terry Phillips, Aloun's marketing and public relations director.
Aloun sales manager Eddie Milan Sr. said sales were somewhat slow when the melons first began appearing around April. Since then, however, demand has picked up. The season is expected to run through early November.
"Once we started promo-ing it and Eddie began sending samples, it really began to take off," Phillips said.
Milan said the retail prices of the local sunburst run from about 39 cents a pound to about 79 cents a pound, slightly higher than other cantaloupes, he said. The average sunburst weighs 3 to 4 pounds, fitting between 12 and 15 to a box.
Sunbursts are typically ripe when picked and put for sale in the markets, unlike other melons. "When they get to the stores, they should be ready to eat," he said.
Among the retailers now carrying the sunburst variety are Don Quijote, Foodland, Times, Marukai and Wal-Mart. They're also available at the farmers market each Saturday at Kapi'olani Community College.
Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at email@example.com.