The increased prominence of mandarins has changed the dynamic of the citrus market, according to growers, shippers and marketing agents.
Mandarins certainly have transcended the niche category, said Scott Mabs, sales and marketing director with Homegrown Organics Farms, Porterville, Calif.
“I don’t know if you can call a mandarin a specialty anymore — it is a commodity now — but it’s becoming the new orange out there,” he said.
Tangerines, clementines and satsumas are all gaining strong footholds in the citrus market, marketers say.
“Clementines clearly are growing at a very rapid pace,” said David Krause, president of Paramount Citrus Association Inc., Delano, Calif.
“Consumer consumption of those products as they have become more available has really taken off.”
Mandarins have climbed over even some traditionally popular varieties, said Bob Blakely, director of industry relations with Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual.
“It’s not really a niche variety anymore. It’s probably now overtaken valencias as our second-largest commodity in terms of acreage,” he said, adding that navel oranges still lead the category by a wide margin.
Mandarins are a good example of how quickly a category can take off, said Tom Wollenman, general manager of LoBue Citrus, Lindsay, Calif.
“They started to be heavily planted by a couple of large entities about 1998,” he said.
“They ramped up yearly, and the huge returns they’ve received the last few years will probably soften a little. But it’s a phenomenal success story for those that have been involved in mandarins.”
Other specialties, such as blood oranges and cara caras, are starting to follow suit, said Andrew Brown, a director with California Citrus Mutual.
“Some people like a traditional navel, but there’s room for both in the marketplace,” he said.
“Most of my clients here need to have some in their growing portfolio. Up to this point, it’s been a growing market. The big question is at what point is that market satisfied/met and the scales tip the other way. I don’t think we have the answer yet. People will continue to develop acreage until we reach that point.”
Other specialties are gaining traction, as well, said Alex Jackson, spokesman for Frieda’s Inc., Los Alamitos, Calif.
“Although blood oranges, specialty mandarins, and cara caras have gained popularity in the citrus category, the specialty items that are up and coming include pummelos, oroblancos, melogolds, buddha’s hand citron, and specialty lemons — meyer, seedless, pink variegated — as well as finger limes,” she said.
“These items are included in Frieda’s specialty citrus line, and our citrus category continues to grow with each season.”
Cara caras, described as a red-fleshed navel, are developing a following, said Al Finch, marketing director for Lake Hamilton, Fla.-based Florida Classic Growers Inc.