What’s Up with Walmart’s New Designer Cantaloupe?

Walmart spent two years developing a cantaloupe that tastes sweet and fresh year-round, the latest addition to a phenomenon called "designer fruit."

Thick slices of cantaloupe lined up in three rows

Shutterstock / SK Herb

If you’ve ever had a cantaloupe in the winter, you know why this classic summer staple doesn’t sell well. Simply put, off-season cantaloupes are awful: dry, flavorless and tough.

Traditionally, cantaloupe is in season for only two months: July and August. Peak melons are juicy and candy sweet, perfect for summer fruit salads and yogurt parfaits. Once the season ends, though, even the best cantaloupes lose their flavor and texture, leading to a drop in sales for grocery stores nationwide. One of the country’s largest grocers, Walmart, noticed that it sold ten times as many of the orange melons in the summer. They wanted a way to keep sales going all year.

Bloomberg reported that the brand partnered with Bayer AG to develop a better winter fruit. After two years of painstaking research and twenty experiments, the company finally unveiled The Sweet Spark in June 2017. They’re calling it the world’s first “designer cantaloupe”-a new species of the melon that tastes 40% sweeter than a typical off-season one. (And it’s not genetically modified.) Sounds like it’s always going to be cantaloupe season, in Walmart at least.

Walmart is far from the first company to sell designer fruit. The Grapery in Bakersfield, California, crossbred different grape varietals to produce unique flavor combinations, the most popular being the Cotton Candy grape, created in 2011. There’s no cotton candy inside, just extra-sugary natural flavor borrowed from a lesser-known grape variety. A naturally flavored grape that tastes like fair food but is still good for you? No wonder sales took off!

Still think you haven’t heard of designer fruit? Scan your grocery shelves for grapples (grape-flavored apples), pluots (a plum-apricot mix), and nectaplums (nectarines that taste like plums). Hybrid fruit, created by cross-pollination and other crossbreeding methods, is a $100 million business all on its own. With so many exotic options available at every grocery store, Walmart decided to create the Sweet Spark to give them an advantage over competitors Aldi and Lidl.

Regardless of whether or not you like scientists tampering with your produce, you can’t deny that it would be pretty cool to have a cantaloupe without an off-season. Sales were launched earlier this month in over 200 stores nationwide, with expansions planned for later in the summer. Now, if you’re a Walmart shopper, you don’t have to wait for July to make these delicious cantaloupe recipes-you can enjoy sweet melon all year long.

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