FreightWaves Flashback 1971: ‘Breakthrough’ reported in test shipment of melons to UK stores

The many industries that make up the world of freight have undergone tremendous change over the past several decades. Each Friday, FreightWaves explores the archives of American Shipper’s nearly 70-year-old collection of shipping and maritime publications to showcase interesting freight stories of long ago.

The following is an excerpt from the September 1971 edition of the Florida Journal of Commerce.

The first three test shipments of Florida watermelons to London have been completed and all participants report a total success. For the first time, Londoners were able to buy the larger American melons.

The first melons left the A. Duda & Sons farm in Felda via truck to Norfolk; waited on the dock four days; were loaded on a U.S. Line container ship and arrived in London on the 15th day after leaving the farm.

The next day the melons were in 20 stores of Safeway, Ltd. Three days later some of the stores were sold out and the Safeway central office was impressed enough to order three more shipments for immediate delivery. The follow-up orders were received in London on July 6.

New techniques involved in or developed for this special project included packaging the watermelons in corrugated fiberboard cartons, palletization of the cartons, modifying a van container and installing a forced air ventilation system on the van to keep the melons at the right temperature and keep sea spray out.

Participants in the project included the United States Department of Agriculture Research Service, Transportation and Packaging Station in Orlando and Rotterdam, Holland; the National Watermelon Growers and Distributors Association of Lakeland, A. Duda & Sons, U.S. Foreign Agriculture Service in London, the U.S. Agricultural attache in London and J. O. Simms, Ltd. of London.

Objectives of the test shipments were to evaluate marketing, promotion and acceptance of U.S. watermelons in London retail stores and to determine if larger melons can be marketed in Europe when they are cut in quarters or halves. The overall cost of transportation and marketing of the U.S. melons in the United Kingdom or European markets was another factor monitored.


The new techniques of cartoning melons and palletizing them into a large box-type van that is put on wheels or bogeys for movement to and off the ship were mandatory. This was believed the best and most efficient method to handle the melons.

Researchers knew that watermelons shipped without refrigeration would cost half as much in transportation rates. To test the shipment without refrigeration, “marine plugs” for ventilator openings were made waterproof and suction fans were installed to draw air in when there were no winds at sea.

The National Watermelon Growers and Distributors Association supplied the promotion materials and arranged for Duda to provide the melons. The U.S. Foreign Agricultural Services paid all the ocean freight charges on the shipment and conducted the marketing promotion once the melons reached London.

The USDA’s Russell Hines in Rotterdam checked the melons on their arrival for damage and loss of quality. Hines also arranged for pictures of the unloading process as well as following the melons into the British stores and instructed an in-store merchandising technique.

Larry Risse, with the USDA’s Transportation and Facilities Research Branch Office in Orlando, said observations prove that melons can be shipped in the ventilated vans and that the market for Florida watermelons is there in the United Kingdom and Europe. He explained that the Grey Hybrids weigh in the neighborhood of 20 pounds. This, he said, is in contrast to 2 to 8 pound melons Europeans are accustomed to. Londoners have been receiving the smaller melons from Chile, South America, Israel, Italy and Southern France.

Adrian Chapman, president of the Florida Watermelon Growers and Distributors Association, expressed delight in the success of this trial shipment and in the acceptance of Florida melons in the London market. The opening of the European market to this type market melon will help all growers in Florida, Chapman said. He complimented the USDA and the Florida Department of Agriculture for their ingenuity and initiative in conducting this test.

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