California Standard aims for citrus sweet spot

10/15/2012 04:38:00 PM
Tom Burfield

California navel orange grower-shippers plan to kick off the winter citrus season with fruit that will keep consumers coming back week after week.

OrangesToo often, in the past, they say, consumers would be turned off by fruit that wasn’t quite ready to hit supermarket shelves.

Sometimes shoppers would wait several weeks before giving the fruit another try.

Now, however, the industry has launched what it’s calling the California Standard.

Under the new maturity standard, growers will not ship their navel oranges until they reach optimum flavor.

“With the new standard, there’s a much higher probability that (consumers) will get a good-tasting piece of fruit from the beginning of the season to the end of the season,” said Bob Blakely, director of industry relations for California Citrus Mutual, Exeter.

The California citrus industry has long used a specific sugar-to-acid ratio to determine the maturity of fruit, he said. The most recent ratio of 9-to-1 was set in the late 1940s.

The ratio system sometimes fell short, and “the flavor was not very palatable,” he said.

Several years ago, the industry started surveying consumers to come up with a flavor profile that appealed to them and would prompt them to pick up oranges again.

“We are convinced that we have determined what that flavor profile is,” Galone said.

Growers still will take the same sugar and acid measurements, but instead of just doing a straight ratio, he said, “We will now run them through a kind of convoluted formula that gives us a flavor profile rather than just a sugar-acid ratio.”

“Starting this year and beyond, we have to make a flavor profile of 90 based on this scale,” he said. “It eliminates the flatter-tasting fruit.”

The goal of the new maturity standard is to give consumers a flavorful piece of fruit, starting with the first shipments, but how that will affect shippers is hard to say, said Al Imbimbo, vice president of sales for Suntreat Packing & Shipping Co., Lindsay, Calif.

The standard will change the time when growers will start to harvest, he said.

“In some places, you’ll be able to harvest when you did before, and some places you won’t,” he said.

Randy Jacobson, sales manager for Cecelia Packing Corp., Orange Cove, Calif., agreed.

“The idea is to put out a better-tasting piece of fruit,” he said. “I don’t think we know what the impact (on growers) is going to be.”

The industry can’t make a blanket statement that it will delay maturity for all growers, he said, “because it’s not.”

“I think it’s going to be specific to location and variety,” Jacobson said.

It’s likely that some oranges will be held off the market for little while because they won’t meet the standard, he said.

“Is that enough to make a dent in the overall availability? I don’t think we know that,” Jacobson said.

Galone said he is “cautiously optimistic” that the program will be good for consumers and for the industry.

“With this California Standard in place, it should help to ensure that the first eating experience that the consumer gets is good enough to bring them back,” he said.

Growers who must hold onto their fruit longer may lose out in the short term, he said, but they’ll gain later when consumers come back to buy more navels sooner.

Blakely said there could be an increase of 35% in the amount of acceptable fruit going into a box early in the season as a result of the California Standard.



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