Do navel oranges from Australia, South Africa or Chile in U.S. supermarkets every summer help or hurt the California-Arizona deal when it starts up in the fall?
“That is an argument that every grower-packer-shipper has encountered over the past 30 years,” said Russ Tavlan, president of Moonlight Packing Corp., Reedley, Calif.
“On one hand, continuity of supply allows the consumer to get accustomed to eating that product year-round, which, in theory, is good for the category,” he said.
“But that continuity of supply detracts from the excitement of the startup of District 1 navels,” Tavlan said.
The answer, he said, “is in the eye of the beholder.”
But it’s really a moot point, he said, because retailers are going to carry imported navels every summer, anyway.
“The reality is that the retail environment cannot afford to go without that product offering to the consumer,” he said.
If David Stone, an owner of Valhalla Sales & Marketing Co. in Kingsburg, Calif., were a pure navel grower, he said he would say that summer navels take excitement away from the fall crop.
But Valhalla is a marketing company.
“We market fruit,” Stone said. “If I don’t import them, someone else is going to.”
A similar argument is made about Chilean and Mexican table grapes, he said. Table grape programs can’t be shut down in other countries until grape season kicks off in California’s Coachella Valley.
“We live in a world marketplace,” he said.
Neil Galone, vice president of sales and marketing for Booth Ranches LLC, Orange Cove, Calif., sees both sides of the issue.
“It’s nice to be able to offer the consumer a year-round navel, I guess,” he said. But then he added, “I kind of miss the seasonality.”
SunWest Fruit Co. Inc., Parlier, Calif., focuses on tree fruit during the summer, said salesman John Senn.
He said the imported navel oranges don’t have an impact on the domestic navel deal or the start of the California season.
“When we’re ready to start (California navels), the retailers are ready to buy the fruit,” he said. “It doesn’t seem like they hold off until they clean up their offshore items.”
Tavlan said oranges aren’t big sellers in the summer, anyway.
“People don’t buy oranges when it’s hot, and people don’t buy stone fruit and grapes much when it’s cold,” he said.
The availability of oranges year-round actually may hurt summer navel sales because they must compete with domestic peaches, plums, nectarines and melons, Galone said.
“People can get oranges year-round, so I think you lose some of the attraction from the consumer in the summer.”
It seems that consumers who want to enjoy oranges during the summer lean toward California valencias, Galone said — especially when school starts.
“We’ve been really pleased with what’s been going on with the valencias the last couple of months,” he said in early October.
“Prices have been strong, demand has been really good.”
California valencia growers who hold onto their valencias for the next five or 10 years could end up big winners, said Roy Bell, general manager of Cal Citrus Packing Co., Lindsay, Calif.
When growers don’t have the size or quality consumers seek for valencias, California valencias can go to the single-strength juice market, where demand now exceeds supply, he said.