California and Arizona organic citrus sales are maintaining their upward trend.
“We continue to see increases year over year,” said John Stair, domestic commodity manager for San Francisco-based Pacific Organic Produce/Purity Organic, San Francisco.
He said he expects the company’s navel program to be double what it was last year because of added acreage and more fruit per tree this season.
That’s good news, he said, because the company likely could have handled more volume last season.
Volume also is up on the firm’s desert lemons and grapefruit, both of which have been seen strong demand.
Cecelia Packing Corp., Orange Cove, Calif., offers organic navel and cara cara oranges, said sales manager Randy Jacobson.
“It’s a growing field,” he said.
Jacobson said he’s not aware of any organic buyers cutting back because of the sour economy.
“If you’re a committed organic user, you’re a committed organic user,” he said.
Cecilia Packing has a relatively small organic deal — 100 acres of oranges and 30 acres of cara caras — Jacobson said.
There’s a discussion at the firm every year about whether the company should add organic acreage or cut back.
“It’s more likely that we’ll continue to convert some acreage to organic,” he said. “It’s part of the portfolio of property and crops that we have.”
Organic citrus has proved to be a good deal on the growing side, he said. “The returns are very good.”
The recession had an impact on organic sales at Eco-Farm, Temecula, Calif., said president Steve Taft. “But it seems to have kind of recovered.”
Eco-Farm was finishing its organic valencia program early this year — around mid-October — because growers pulled out acreage because of the high cost of water in the Temecula-San Diego area, he said.
The company’s valencia production was down by half compared with last year, he said.
Navels and grapefruit will start up again at the end of November, and lemons should start even sooner, he said.
The company will offer organic minneolas and tangerines this winter.
“From our perspective things, have been continuing to grow,” said Scott Mabs, director of marketing for Homegrown Organic Farms, Strathmore, Calif.
Citrus is one of the company’s strongest items, he said.
“We have an extremely well-rounded program, from lemons, limes and grapefruit to the valencias, navels and mandarin varietals,” Mabs said.
Unlike the conventional citrus category, organic navels have not been cannibalized by the mandarins, Stair said.
“As best as we can see, specialty varieties are perceived as something very different from standard fruit, like navels, so there’s room for both,” he said.
Mandarins tend to complement the navel category rather than cut into sales, he added.
“Consumers like a variety of organic citrus in winter.”
A controversial study released by Stanford University this summer that indicated organic produce is not more nutritious than conventional didn’t seem to have much of an impact on organic citrus growers or their customers.
Most people who buy organic produce to avoid potential pesticide residue and to conserve the environment and promote sustainability, shippers said.
“I don’t believe that, for the consumer, whether organic is more nutritional or less nutritional plays into a lot of the decision-making process,” Mabs said.
He said grower-shippers do not use added nutritional value as a selling point for organic produce.
Some organic buyers believe organic produce is more nutritious, Stair said, while others simply want fruits and vegetables with no trace amounts of pesticides.
Pacific Organic Produce has promoted organics as “good for the body and good for the environment,” he said, but has not made nutrition claims.
Taft said he does not contest the report.
“Our contention has always been that organic farming is better for the earth, better for the world and more sustainable,” he said. “The report does not change that.”
Some fans of organic produce have claimed that it tastes better or is more nutritious than conventional, but not Eco-Farm.
“Our big interest wasn’t in that,” Taft said. “It’s the stewardship of the earth.”
None of the growers reported any impact on sales as a result of the report.