From 5 to 10 euros each: why melons are so expensive at the beginning of the season

From 5 to 10 euros each: why melons are so expensive at the beginning of the season

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A dire harvest in Spain pushed up prices in May and early June. But with the arrival of the summer season, growers fear that melons will once again be sacrificed on the altar of the price war.

Over the past few weeks, your melon and prosciutto may have cost you more in fruit than in ham. Since the beginning of the season, Charentais melons, whether they come from France, Spain or Morocco, have reached stratospheric prices. To offer you the Cavaillon carambola, you will sometimes have to pay around 5 euros a piece. When it is no more.

On an E.Leclerc trip from the west of France, Charentais of the Mylibon brand (Boyer group, one of the most important French producers), you will pay even 10 euros. At this price, you can cross your fingers that it’s good.

Although melons are usually more expensive at the beginning of the season, when production is lower, this year prices are breaking records. There is certainly inflation with production costs soaring 30% this year with rising energy and raw material prices. But that is not the real explanation. It is above all the lack of supply that explains the high level of prices in recent weeks. The capricious weather of March and April severely limited production.

The melon in crisis

“The melon that is sold at retail in May and early June comes mainly from Spain,” recalls Jérôme Jausseran, president of Force Sud, a group of producers from Hérault. In April it rained a lot in Spain and the bees did not pollinate the melon flowers. “

It takes an average of five weeks to produce a melon. In May, with the return of good weather in France, the desire for melons is felt. The profession estimates that demand multiplies by three when temperatures exceed 25°C. But since there was no supply, prices skyrocketed in the National Interest Markets (MIN) and therefore on our shelves.

“In May, we normally ship melons at 1.80 euros per kilo (the price that growers sell to the distributor), estimates Jérôme Jausseran. This year we were above 3 euros, which makes the public price exceed 5 euros”.

But do not worry. Prices will drop in the next few days. With the May harvests arriving at the stalls, melons are gradually returning to their usual price of 3 euros per melon.

If the increase was painful for consumers, it was quite well received by producers. Because the melon has been going through a deep crisis for several years. In two years, the two largest melon producers in the country have totally or partially ceased their activity.

In 2020, the Poitou Rouge-Gorge company, which alone produced 10% of French consumption (30,000 tons per year), sold its activity to the Force Sud group to focus on apples.

A year later, it was the new number 1 in the Soldive sector that almost completely abandoned melon production. At the end of last year, the group Les Vergers du Sud, owner of Soldive, closed most of these sites and divided the number of hectares cultivated with melon by five.

“The weather and production were catastrophic, he commented last November in West of France Lucas Crosnier, CEO of Les Vergers du Sud. As with Rouge-Gorge, we have reached the limit of what is economically viable.”

One third less surface area in 10 years

And the phenomenon is global. The areas cultivated with melons have been reduced for a decade. From 14,750 hectares in 2012, the total area in the three main producing regions has dropped to 10,400 this year according to data from the Interprofessional Melon Association (AIM).

10% less melon area in 2022.
10% less melon area in 2022. © AIM

Production, which was around 300,000 tons per year, fell to 240,000 in 2020 before increasing slightly in 2021 (260,000). It is not enough to satisfy French consumers, the most fond of Charentais melons in the world. The large French producers will thus produce enough in Spain and Morocco to supply our country with melons. The melon trade deficit increases year after year and reached a record 121,000 tons in 2021.

A deadly price war

Why such a production crisis when the French continue to favor summer fruit? It is true that it has decreased slightly, but consumption is still maintained with 80% of French people buying it every year for a total of 8 kg consumed per household.

The problem with melons is that their production is less and less profitable. If the French buy it for an average of 2 euros a year according to Kantar, it is mainly sold as a promotion. During the summer, the buy-to-sell ratio rarely drops below 40% according to the annual study of FranceAgriMar. It is not uncommon to see melons sold for €0.99 each in certain stores in the summer.

“The melon is the loss leader of the summer, the price reference of all the brands about which they do a lot of communication”, explains Jérôme Jausseran. his CEO to assure him that his product was indeed the cheapest on the market. It was the only product that led to this call!”

By definition, a loss leader does not claim to be profitable. Its objective is to attract flow at the point of sale. But if Leclerc, Carrefour and other Intermarché are catching up with other products, the producers, who only do that, cannot balance themselves when a product is bought from them below its cost price. This often happens during promotions.

“I have to sell it so that it doesn’t end up in my hands, even if it is below the cost of production,” confesses Jérôme Jausseran. We try to balance ourselves throughout the year, but we still have a low margin.

As long as the harvest is poor, the results are guaranteed to be red. Hence the abandonment of the activity in recent years and the gradual reduction of the cultivated area.

Above all because in addition to the “curse” of losing the leader, the melon is a difficult and expensive production. It takes two to three people to grow and harvest one hectare of melon during the season.

“Do the math, if you have 100 hectares, you need 250 people, while for the same surface in cereals it is one or two people at most, estimates Jérôme Jausseran. And also, for cereals, you have a guaranteed sale price. “

More and more growers are abandoning their melon fields to grow wheat or barley. In 2022, only 400 of them are still producing Charentais melons in France.

Frederic Bianchi

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