Spanish clementine imports are down significantly this season, but a big California crop is keeping a lid on prices, importers say.

Because of a weak dollar, Spanish clementine shipments are down 25% to 35% this season for Seald Sweet International, Vero Beach, Fla., said David Mixon, senior vice president and chief marketing officer.

“It’s been an interesting season thus far, to put it mildly,” Mixon said.

Pointing out that last season’s volumes also were down from the year before, Mixon said the trend among Spanish clementine shippers is to regard the U.S. market as “a secondary market at best.”

Through Dec. 12, about 570 million pounds of Spanish clementines had been shipped to the U.S., down from 636 million pounds last year at the same time, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Recognizing that, California clementine producers have almost doubled volumes from last year at this time, a trend that will likely continue, Mixon said.

“California is just at the tip of the iceberg on what will be produced in years to come,” he said.

About 31,400 acres of clementines were in production in California in 2008, said Bob Blakely, director of grower relations for California Citrus Mutual, Exeter. That’s up from 11,600 acres in 2001, he said.

John Lazopoulos, Spanish and Moroccan import manager for DNE World Fruit Sales, Fort Pierce, Fla., emphasized the appearance and flavor of the imported fruit this season.

“There’s a strong preference for Spanish clementines from Boston to D.C., and as far as Cleveland and Pittsburgh,” he said. “We’re tickled with the quality of the Ocean Spray product we’re shipping this season.”

Quality was peaking in mid-December, Lazopoulos said.

DNE, which also has seen a 25% to 30% decline in the Spanish deal this season, expects shipments to begin winding down in mid-January, Lazopoulos said.

Spanish shipments for LGS Specialty Sales Ltd., New York, have been off 15% to 20% this season, said Luke Sears, president.

Sears reported very good quality and excellent mid-December demand, with heavy promotions in the weeks leading up to Christmas. The company expects arrivals through January, he said.

Because of the big influx of California product, prices have not gotten the boost to be expected in a year when Spanish volumes are down so much, Mixon said.

Prices are higher for larger fruit, with the biggest sizes getting as much as $4.75, Lazopoulos said.

On Dec. 15, the USDA reported prices of $4.25-4.50 for 5-pound cartons of Spanish clementines 15-24s, up from $4-4.25 last year at the same time.