If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
That’s the philosophy many navel orange grower-shippers in California and Arizona have adopted as they face more competition from clementines, minneolas and other specialty citrus varieties every year.
The easy-peel category has been more heavily planted than navels for the past few years, said Fred Berry, director of marketing for Mulholland Citrus, Orange Cove, Calif., so the category should have the greatest increases over the next four to five years.
“Clementines certainly have had an effect on overall navel sales,” said Rick Eastes, vice president and general manager of Seald Sweet West International Inc., Dinuba, Calif.
“We’ll see how the industry adjusts this year.”
The navel season starts out with competition from mandarins, said Randy Jacobson, sales manager for Cecelia Packing Corp., Orange Cove.
“They’ve taken a huge bite out of navel sales, at least early in the season,” he said.
Minneolas are another item that are cannibalizing navels, he said. But they won’t start until late January or early February.
“It should be a great crop,” he said, though sizing could be a bit smaller than usual.
W. murcotts mature after clementines, said Neil Galone, vice president of sales and marketing for Booth Ranches LLC, Orange Cove.
“W. murcott is an attempt to extend the mandarin window, which is pretty much year-round when you consider imports,” he said.
In Arizona, Associated Citrus Packers Inc. in Yuma will start shipping minneola tangelos in mid-December, said Mark Spencer, secretary-treasurer and chief operating officer.
The minneola crop looks better than last year’s, which was affected by a freeze, he said.
Volume, quality and fruit size will be improved as a result of summer rains.
Minneolas should be available from Associated Citrus Packers until mid-February.
The company will start it rio red grapefruit in early November and finish in the spring.
Volume and size of the fruit should be similar to last year.
Grapefruit are not affected by freezes to the extent that some other citrus items are, Spencer said.
“They’re a little more hardy.”
Back in Orange Cove, Mulholland Citrus expects to start shipping satsumas in late October, clementines around Nov. 10 and w. murcotts by Jan. 25, Berry said.
Volume industrywide should be up on the easy-peels this year, he said.
The w. murcotts were hammered by cold weather in December and January last year, and the whole industry was off by up to 40%, Berry said.
If normal conditions prevail this winter, and with new maturing trees, the category could be up 10% to 15% or more across the board, he said.
Satsuma mandarin volume should be about the same or lower than last year because they tend to be more of an alternate-bearing fruit, he said.
Consumers like the easy-peel fruit, Eastes said. And that can both help and hurt the navel crop.
“As clementines have increased, there has been some cannibalization of navel demand,” he said.
But with greater availability of clementines, there’s no rush to start California navels, he said.
“The result is, we’ll probably start off with much better-eating fruit.”
SunWest Fruit Co. Inc., Parlier, Calif., will kick off its clementine program in mid- to late November, said Doug Sankey, sales manager.
He expects good quality and a similar or possibly slightly larger crop than last year. Fruit size should be normal.
Clementines will ship until mid-January, when the company will start its mandarin program of afourer and seedless tango mandarins.
The company sets out netting over all of its ranches to ensure seedless mandarins.
Grower-shippers tend to believe that there’s room for navels and the specialty varieties.
“The more choice the consumer has, the more likely they are to try different things,” Jacobson said. “Each have their own attributes.”
The mandarins are easy to peel and have good flavor, Galone said, “but navels have their own unique flavor.”
“The more one variety comes into favor, it has to, to some degree, take it away from some of the others,” he said.