A combination of the freezes and excellent quality out of Spain has led to brisk movement of Spanish fruit this winter, said John Lazopoulos, Spanish and Moroccan import manager for DNE World Fruit Sales, Fort Pierce, Fla.
“Demand is very good, and it’s strengthening,” Lazopoulos said. “Retailers are adjusting, knowing they have to pay more for good fruit. It’s the best quality in a long time from Spain.”
On Jan. 7, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $4-4.25 for 5-pound containers of clementines 24s from Spain, comparable to last year at the same time.
California citrus growers endured a string of sub-freezing nights in December, and mandarin damage is expected to be significant.
Spanish quality has improved with the arrivals in December of clemenules and clemenvillas, said Peter Anderson, imported citrus category manager for Vero Beach, Fla.-based Seald Sweet International.
Moroccan quality should be good with the arrival of nours the third week of January and afourer murcotts in mid-February, Anderson said.
“We should see good pull and promotions through January from the Eastern Seaboard chains, while we also anticipate better demand from the Midwestern accounts as they shift their buying to imports,” Anderson said.
“We’ve seen increased interest and retail promotions this season.”
Barney Evans, owner and vice president of sales for Pasadena, Calif.-based Sun Pacific, which packs under the Cuties label, said the company hoped to begin shipping tangos and murcotts about Jan. 18.
Evans said Sun Pacific wouldn’t know the full extent of freeze damage until packing begins, but he said losses could be in the 40% range. Whatever does wind up shipping, Evans said, will be high-quality.
“It won’t be in the Cuties label” if it’s not, he said.
DNE was seeing more demand from Midwestern retailers that normally would pull from California at this time of year.
Many retailers were switching from boxes to bags in early January, with Spanish fruit peaking on 28s and 24s, Lazopoulos said.
Demand for imported fruit in early January was spurred by California being in between its clementine and murcott deals, and by “a perception of quality issues with the freeze,” Lazopoulos said.
DNE expects strong demand for Spanish and Moroccan fruit through the week of Jan. 20 and possibly the week of Jan. 28, Lazopoulos said.
The week of Jan. 6, DNE’s Moroccan deal was transitioning into two high-quality mandarin varieties. Sizes were peaking on 24s, with better color and taste than earlier varieties, he said.
DNE expected to have Spanish mandarins through about Feb. 10. Murcotts from Mexico should begin shipping in late January.
Lazopoulos reported good growing weather out of Mexico.