It took awhile for California navels to reach peak quality and taste, but once they did, shippers started reaping the benefits, said Neil Galone, vice president of sales and marketing for Orange Cove, Calif.-based Booth Ranches LLC.
“It’s creating good pull-through at retail,” Galone said April 10. “Demand is now actually pretty good.”
Barney Evans, vice president of sales for Los Angeles-based Sun Pacific Shippers, also reported excellent quality and brisk movement in early April.
“The fruit is eating extremely well and movement has picked up,” Evans said April 10.
On April 10, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $15.73-16.75 for 7/10-bushel cartons of navels 48-56s from California, up from $13.63-14.65 last year at the same time.
As of April 10, between 70% and 75% of the California navel crop had been shipped, said Bob Blakely, director of industry relations for Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual.
The strong pull from export markets was starting to carry over to domestic markets by this spring, Blakely said.
“The price is starting to move up, and it should continue through the end of the season,” he said April 10. “The fruit was late coming on, but it’s now eating pretty well.”
Prices would get another boost when regular-season navels give way to late-season navels, Galone said. The transition was beginning already in early April for some shippers, though Booth Ranches expects to ship regular-season fruit until about mid-May.
The California navel deal is expected to wind down in late June for Booth Ranches. Sun Pacific expects to ship through about July 4, Evans said.
Most California shippers would stop shipping by late June or early July, Blakely said. The navel deal typically ends about mid-July, he said.
Shippers also had been waiting longer than usual for big-sized navels, Galone said. That wish also had been answered by early April. Sizes would likely peak on 48s, 56s and 72s for the duration of the navel deal, he said.
Those bigger sizes were definitely a welcome sight to retailers, Evans said.
“The fruit’s a little bigger than we anticipated,” he said. “It’s worked out well.”
Sizing was helped by timely rains, Blakely said.
As a result, prices for smaller fruit should continue to rise in the coming months as supplies dwindle, Galone said.
Evans also predicted stronger markets for smaller fruit. Prices on bigger fruit would likely remain steady in coming weeks, he said.