Mandarin growers can barely keep up with the demand for their sweet, easy-peel fruit, which continues to grow at double-digit rates.

With the weather improving in California and w. murcott mandarins that survived the mid-January freeze ready to be harvested, the season continues to be a sweet one.

“We just came off clementine season with record numbers,” said Fred Berry, marketing director of Orange Cove, Calif.-based Mulholland Citrus.

“The movement was good all the way through, consumers liked what they bought and it has been priced at a reasonable level.

“When you can move through fruit as fast as we’ve moved through fruit and never back up in terms of an industry, that’s really good,” Berry said.

While acknowledging that Paramount and Sun Pacific’s Cuties have earned great brand recognition, Doug Sankey, sales manager of Parlier, Calif.-based Sunwest Fruit, said Sunwest’s 2-year-old Clem’N Tina’s brand is gaining traction in the marketplace.

“Once we once get up and running in mid-January, we expect to do a lot of volume through April,” he said.

Sankey said wind machines saved the grower-shipper’s mandarin crop during the recent freeze.

“We may see minor damage on the borders, but nothing significant,” he said.

He said Sunwest has been planting more of the seedless tango variety, a sister to the murcott, in its newer ranches.

“We’ve been one of the growers aggressively pursuing the rootstock from nurseries,” he said.

Sunwest’s 2- and 3-pound mesh and poly bags remain popular, he said, allowing retailers to hit certain price points and giving them a higher ring at the till.

Berry said Mulholland now packs 65% of its clemintines and mandarins in bags, and price determines whether the grower-shipper sells more bags or gift boxes.

“When our 5-pound gift box is priced at $4.99-6.99 they seem to move pretty well,” he said.

“When you start going above that, it slows down the 5-pound movement and the 2–pound and 3-pound bags pick up.”

Seedless varieties are so hot, even one of Florida’s largest honey tangerine growers is taking its lead from California.

“We know consumers want an easy-to-peel piece of citrus that has no seeds, and we’re in the development stages of trying to bring those varieties to Florida,” said Dave Brocksmith, Florida citrus manager for Vero Beach, Fla.-based Seald Sweet International.