The trend for smaller, sweeter citrus has been a huge boost for mandarin, clementine and tangerine markets, but that growth has caused some consumers to turn away from navel oranges.
“The growth category in citrus currently, and for several years now, is the mandarin and clementine category,” said Kim Flores, director of marketing, Seald Sweet, Vero Beach, Fla.
“It currently shows the strongest rate of per capita consumption growth in the citrus category, Flores said, citing the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ERS Fruit and Tree Nut report.
All these added sales have caused some suppliers to be less interested in navel oranges.
However, depending on the perspective, some suppliers have seen navel sales stay at about the same level, while the mandarin sales increase.
Sankey points out that staying flat in a period of overall growth in produce sales could translate to a loss, but navels are still selling well.
“Retailers have said that the mandarin category is certainly growing, while the navels have leveled out, so they aren’t really declining, just staying flat while the mandarins are growing,” said Doug Sankey, sales manager Sunwest Fruit, Parlier, Calif.
Of course, no one believes the navels have been severely hurt.
“It’s not really hurting the navel category. We still sell a lot of navels,” Sankey said.
In addition, not all navel sales may be affected.
“From what I understand, the category may be stealing some business from the navels, but it’s probably the bagged side of that business more than the bulk sales,” Sankey said.
In the meantime, Bob Blakely, director of industry relations for Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual, said the mandarin segment is still growing.
“We’re still seeing more trees planted, primarily seedless mandarins,” he said. “Acreage continues to increase as demand increases.”
He said the category isn’t likely finished growing.
“I think we still have some growth potential although planting as slowed somewhat,” he said.
Part of the success of the category can be traced to extensive marketing programs that target families and kids.
“For the easy-peel category, the younger consumer is very important. Having graphics on the bag is pretty common all across the board,” said Fred Berry, marketing director of Orange Cove, Calif.-based Mulholland Citrus.
“High-graphic bags attract consumer attention and have grown over the last several years in movement/popularity of the citrus category,” Flores said.