Yubari melons latest victims of recession

The Associated Press

The latest victim of the recession is round, sweet and famous for being shockingly expensive.

The first two Yubari melons of the season were auctioned Friday in Hokkaido and fetched ¥500,000.

Pricey? Certainly. But it’s practically a steal if you consider last year’s winning bid — a record ¥2.5 million. In 2007 they sold for ¥2 million.

It appears the world’s swankiest melon is in a major deflationary slump.

Weighing about 3.6 kg, the premium cantaloupes were part of the season’s initial harvest at Sapporo Central Wholesale Market. Every year buyers flock to the market for a shot at the prestige of winning the very first melons of the year.

The orange-fleshed melons are grown only in the city of Yubari, a small town in Hokkaido. Valued for their perfect proportions and taste, they are typically given as gifts during the summer.

The other melons at the first auction aren’t quite as expensive, but even those tumbled in price this year. The average price Friday of 84 melons was about ¥38,250, down from ¥60,170 last year, according to the daily Sankei.

Department stores and high-end retailers sell the fruit to the public for ¥5,000 to ¥10,000, although prices can run much higher depending on quality.

Yubari official Kaoru Hirano said the dramatic drop in this year’s winning bid is actually good for the cash-strapped city, which needs its melon industry to buck the recession.

“I think last year was highly unusual,” Hirano said. “Such a high price gave the melons a bit of an image problem. Everyone began to think that they were just too expensive, and this hurt the average retailer.”