Fred WilkinsonGerrit van der Merwe, owner of Citrusdal, South Africa-based ALG Estates, shows off the “baboon mineola” on June 4. Baboons — normally a menace to crops — turned out to be unlikely help with varietal development in this case. ALG growers noticed baboons returned repeatedly to feast on fruit from this tree in the middle of the grove, forsaking others. It turns out the tree’s citrus is particularly sweet and earlier maturing.CITRUSDAL, South Africa — Growers are busy packing early navels and clementines, with fruit scheduled to be on retail shelves soon.
Favorable weather marked by no rain helped fruit develop nice coloring and high sugar levels along with the larger sizes U.S. consumers prefer, said Gerrit van der Merwe, owner of ALG Estates.
In early June ALG was wrapping up packing of easy-peelers to get the season under way before moving to navels, valencias and other varieties until the season winds down in the fall, he said.
“It’s a very good clementine crop,” van der Merwe said, adding that demand in the U.S. would be greeted by a near doubling of volume this season.
ALG’s fruit is sold at Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, Costco and Whole Foods, he said.
Also seeing a big opportunity in the U.S. this season is Everseason Ltd., which handles packing, exporting and marketing for 25 grower members.
Stiaan Engelbrecht, managing director, said fruit bound for the U.S. is costlier to ship compared to Europe but that it’s worth the upcharge.
“The U.S. is a premium market,” he said.
Everseason is responding to market demand for soft citrus by aiming to increase easy-peelers from about 20% of its current production to 30% to 35% within a few years, he said.
Engelbrecht said the company expects to ship around 50,000 15-kilogram (33 pounds) boxes of clementines to the U.S. this season out of total clementine production of about half a million cases.
Everseason sends about 20% of its total crop to the U.S., working with importers DNE, Fort Pierce, Fla., and Montreal-based Fisher Capespan to supply retailers including Wal-Mart, Kroger and Costco, Engelbrecht said.