Les Français consomment moyenne 8 kilos melons ménage an.

producers are modernizing the sector to upgrade it, Marketing and Sales

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It’s the star of the summer. And also the first collateral victim of the price war between major brands. Between mid-June and July, the first French melons arrived on the market two weeks to three weeks early due to the heat. And the yields turned out to be quite high. “The former are very large at more than a kilo », notes Marion Mispouillé, leader of the Interprofessional Melon Association (AIM).

But as the picking lasts until the beginning of October, the plantations succeeding each week, nothing is played for the producers. Everything will depend on the weather for the next few weeks, after the drought wave.

France has a total of 13,000 hectares of plantations, which produce around 250,000 tonnes of Charentais melons per year. It was in the South-East, the largest production zone (98,000 tonnes), that the ball started, particularly in the Vaucluse at the beginning of May. The South-West (Tarn et Garonne, Lot, etc.) and the Center West (Poitou-Charentes, Center, Pays de la Loire) are the other growing areas.

Upgrading the melon

The “yellow” Charentais is the most produced variety, which takes its name from the Charente, a great land of cultivation. “We consume an average of 8 kilos per household per year. The challenge is to multiply the opportunities to taste it, and to get out of the ham melon in order to seduce the youngest,” continues Marion Mispouillé. Millennials often prefer watermelon to them, and then eat melon when they are older.

The objective of the sector is to modernize its image, and at the same time to revalue the market. For lack of profitability, many operators stop the costs each year. In ten years, the French melon has lost 30% of its surface area, i.e. more than 4,000 hectares. There are about 500 producers and shippers left. “If it continues, we will do like the peach producers, who uprooted their trees,” laments Jérôme Jausseran, administrator of the Interprofessional Association. Two years ago, the founders of the Rouge-Gorge company (Deux-Sèvres), among the French leaders, threw in the towel and sold the brand to the Force Sud group. Last year, it was the producer Soldive, its rival, which closed its historical unit near Thouars, and its establishments in Morocco, Senegal, Spain and Nîmes. He kept a single site near Royan (Charente-Maritime).

In question, prices still pulled down. “The melon has become the price image of retailers, it is a loss leader that gives rise to fierce competition between distributors,” sums up Jérôme Jausseran. This summer two signs with radio ads offered a melon at 1.25 euros each. Complicated when production costs have risen by around 30% (energy, inputs, etc.). “Its course varies every day according to demand,” continues the specialist. Mass distribution represents about 55% of outlets, alongside markets, hard discount and greengrocers, according to AIM.

A fragile product

“It’s a crazy job, confides François Biscarrat (72), operator in Piolenc, whose sons, the third family generation have taken over the controls. One day we are on the street, and then a few days later, things are much better. I’ve been in the business for more than fifty years, it’s always been like that. The absence of marks, unlike apples, with its Gala or Pink Lady, penalizes the melon. There are only three IGPs, little known, “Melon du Haut-Poitou”, “Melon du Quercy”, and “Melon de la Guadeloupe”. A request is in progress for the Cavaillon melon. To date, the sector offers only one Red Label, yet a lever to revalue this fruit.

Another handicap: the melon is a fragile product subject to the vagaries of the weather, especially frost and rain. It takes a lot of effort. It takes 90 days to grow it. On average between 5% and 20% are discarded during harvest. It is also a very perishable fruit. “Between its picking by hand each morning and consumption, it’s about eight days, so very short deadlines which require working in tight flows”, underlines David Biscarrat, one of François’ sons.

The selection is done by eye in the fields, then in the packaging warehouses, where the melons are placed in crates according to their size. “At a glance, we can determine their quality, given the slightly yellow color, and a slightly split peduncle, witness to its maturity”, continues the producer. After the harvest in the early morning, then the sorting, the trucks leave around 1 p.m. to arrive in the evening or the next day at the supermarkets. A guarantee of freshness.

To cope with the peak of activity, companies must recruit seasonal workers. Not easy. “At the peak of the season, it’s the jungle. You have to manage to retain them over long periods if you want to keep them, ”notes Gilles Biscarrat, the other boss of the operation.

This year, the professionals hope to start again after a catastrophic harvest in 2021. The rain in the spring had caused heavy losses. Thanks to the warm temperatures, the Ministry of Agriculture is counting on a 31% jump in production this year, to 301,000 tonnes and in all basins. Provided the drought does not persist.

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