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Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2011

High price of watermelons may put favorite fruit beyond reach


Watermelons, a summer fixture throughout the country and prized by people seeking cool refreshment amid the sweltering heat, could become out of reach for many consumers because of their soaring prices.

News photo
Nice, but ... : A watermelon with a price tag of ¥3,800 awaits a buyer at a shop in Chuo Ward, Tokyo, on July 22. KYODO

Due to supply shortages caused by unseasonable weather, wholesale prices have spiked some 60 percent compared with their norm and retail prices have surged beyond ¥3,000 apiece. If the summer heat intensifies, the fruit could continue to be in short supply, dealers say.

In Chiba, one of the main watermelon-producing areas, this year's crop was not sweet enough because the annual rainy season set in earlier than usual. As a result, many watermelons were not fit for sale. In Yamagata Prefecture, snow stayed on the fields longer than usual, delaying the spring sowing season, according to wholesalers.

Moreover, overall production is on the decline because watermelon growers are getting older. Cultivation of heavy watermelons is "highly arduous work for seniors," says an official in Imba-gun, Chiba Prefecture.

At the Tsukiji market in Tokyo, cases of three to four watermelons fetched ¥3,234 during the week starting July 15, a whopping 59 percent increase from a year earlier. Passing on the higher wholesale prices to consumers, large supermarkets in Tokyo are selling fruit weighing 4 to 5 kg for ¥2,580 to ¥2,980, up about ¥1,000 from a month ago. At some stores, prices have gone above ¥3,000.

A Tokyo housewife who wanted to satisfy her family's cravings for watermelon sighed, saying, "We have no choice but to settle for other kinds of fruit this year."

Under the circumstances, some retailers are making extra efforts to deliver the coveted fruit to as many family tables as possible.

A large supermarket is slicing watermelons into eight pieces instead of the usual four in hopes that consumers will find the smaller morsels more affordable.

Another supermarket has filled its shelves with unusual-looking, light-colored watermelons. A sign placed beside them says, "Made in America: ¥2,790 apiece."

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