In Japan, designer watermelons can cost up to £20,000 a piece. However, from July 21-22, UK customers were able to get their hands on heart-shaped watermelons at Morrisons throughout the UK for a much, much lower price tag.
800 kg of heart-shaped watermelons were shipped to England in July from Anecoop’s Valencia plantation. The lovely and loving fruit follow a series of innovative and creative watermelon varieties the Spanish company has been developing since 1991. Anecoop is the only producer of Spanish watermelons to create the heart, to date.
Squares, minis, seedless: Over the past decade, watermelons have come in all shapes, sizes and renditions.
In 2013, Japanese farmer Hiroichi Kimura from Kumamoto Prefecture created the first heart-shaped watermelon, spending three years perfecting the innovation. Although Japan translates the art and craft of shaping watermelons as a luxury item available to a niche market, UK retailers are taking a different approach, making heart-shaped watermelons accessible to everyone.
Anecoop’s Carlos Nemesio, product manager for the watermelon category, tells Produce Business UK how ideas for the new fruit sprouted: “This initiative comes as a result of a proposal from the UK retail chain Morrisons. The product, which emerges after a process of development and innovation, aims to surprise the consumer, adding value to both the consumer and the producer.”
It’s not the first time Morrisons has gone heart-shaped. Earlier this year, they introduced a range of heart-shaped burgers into the market for Valentine’s Day.
Anecoop a pioneer in watermelon varieties
Since 1988, the Spanish company has introduced substantial innovations in the watermelon category. In 1991, it launched a revolutionary series of watermelons under the brand Bouquet. First was the red seedless watermelon, the first seedless watermelon of its kind in the European market. Matching the flavor, sweetness and crunchiness of a regular watermelon, this product soared in sales.
The Bouquet series also became the first to market with yellow seedless watermelons, black seedless watermelons and mini watermelons. The mini variety weighs between 2 and 3 kg, with a diameter of 20 cm. They are completely uniform, with high sugar levels as well as a crunchy texture, making them an exceptional alternative to the larger, heavier originals.
Fast-forward a couple of decades, Anecoop has now become the world’s No. 1 supplier of seedless watermelons, with two million tonnes — or approximately 400 million watermelons — marketed to date.
Although they are distributed to 27 countries worldwide, Bouquet watermelons are produced 100 per cent in Spain, grown in the regions of Andalusia, Murcia, Valencia and Castilla La Mancha. Their cultivation is carried out exclusively by Spanish farmers, which plays a pivotal social role for the country by providing continuity in terms of employment for Spanish growers. Over the years, Anecoop has even managed to extend the season for the Bouquet program from April to the end of August.
Anecoop’s large volume of watermelon production also means they can supply fresher watermelons with a smaller carbon footprint than those arriving from outside Europe.
Thought to have originated in Africa, watermelons have been traced to both the Kalahari Desert in Namibia and Botswana, and the Nile River Valley in Egypt, where its seeds have been discovered in Pharaonic tombs. Then, the fruit was most likely brought to Spain by the Moors around the 13th century and have blossomed in the area since.
Anecoop’s history in produce innovation
One of the company’s pillars is their commitment to innovation, actively seeking to adapt fruits and vegetables to suit consumer tastes and demands. To this effect, they created a platform for research and innovation by opening UAL-ANECOOP Foundation’s Innovation and Technology Centre, as well as two experimental field stations.
Joining forces with the University of Almeria, Anecoop set up the centre in 2004 as a space to develop research and experimentation activities. In 2008, it was given the award of “Andalusian Knowledge Agent” as an Innovation and Technology Centre.
The two field stations conduct different testings. The UAL-Anecoop in Almeria is principally dedicated to greenhousing fruits and vegetables; the one in Valencia focuses on open-field growings.
“Our field station is the most important private trial centre of its kind in Europe and the only one to combine experimental knowledge with real application on farms.” Carlos Nemesio explain. “We analyse the properties of some 500 varieties of fruit and vegetables to see how we can improve them and develop new products that cater to current consumer tastes and demands."
With a budget for research and development of more than 1 million euros, Anecoop is dedicated to research into better production and quality systems, new varieties of produce, as well as the challenging task of putting traditional flavours back into fruits and vegetables.
Aside from actual product innovation, the company also dabbled in prepared food, launching a line of prepared foods-on-the-go in 2017. The line included prepared fruit, snack vegetables, vegetable spreads, soups, fruit purees among other varieties.
The company’s focus and future certainly on watermelons.
“In 2017, we reported to have sold 132,000 tonnes of watermelons. This year’s marker should increase to 150,000 tonnes, of which 80 per cent are expected from the seedless Bouquet watermelon,” explained Angel Del Pin, Anecoop’s R+D manager. “Aside from that, we are continuously working on the development of new products in our two R&D centers in Spain.”
Anecoop’s heartfelt treats sold at Morrisons this July is just another example of how the company continues to excite and surprise the consumer with new experiments.