The Peruvian citrus deal started on time or even slightly early this season in mid- to late May, and shippers are prepared for a successful season.

La Calera, Chincha, Peru, plans to ship 20,000 tons of citrus from Peru this season. Estuardo Masias, co-owner and chief executive officer, said the deal is projected to reach 70,000 tons in total.

Mandarins are La Calera’s largest commodity to ship.

Tangerines, the largest import group to the U.S., make up more than half of all volume that comes in from Peru, according to Nelly Yunta, vice president of U.S. imports, customs brokerage and consulting for Customized Brokers, a Miami-based Crowley Maritime company.

Peru exported 650,000 10-kilogram boxes of minneola tangelos to the U.S. last year, according to Mark Hanks, vice president of North American sales and marketing for DNE World Fruit Sales LLC, Fort Pierce, Fla.

“After that, you have navels and mandarins and all the rest,” Yunta said.

Mandarins are typically grown from February to April, with navels coming in at the end of April to August, Yunta said.

“It’s varied, so we have different products throughout the year,” she said.

Yunta said Customized Brokers saw some volume in mid-May, though the typical season doesn’t begin until the end of May, running through the end of August.

Though the deal is starting a little early this year, she expects company volume to be consistent with last year.

“We started like every year, with satsumas, and now have moved to clementines,” Masias said.

“In June we will start with the big crop of minneolas, and then finish the year with w. murcotts that run all the way to September, and sometimes October, arrivals.”

La Calera will be able to export satsumas from March to August and clementines from March to September, according to Masias. In August and September, La Calera plans to sell some honey tangerines, mostly in California and Texas.

Jeff Miller, president of Westlake Produce Co., Los Angeles, said the main items his company deals with are minneolas, clementines, w. murcotts and navel oranges.

“The crop in general will be about 15% larger,” he said, citing new plantings that are coming into production.

“It takes three to four years for new plantings to produce,” Miller said.

Mark Greenberg, president of Fisher Capespan, St. Laurent, Quebec, said clementines are coming in now from Chile and Peru, and seeing a very good market.

Filling the domestic gap

“There’s not much domestic product to speak of because of the early end to the California season. There’s not really any other easy peels so there’s good opportunity in that empty market,” Greenberg said.

There’s competition from domestic summer fruit, but Greenberg said the deal is still going well.

“Prices are high because of the scarcity of the product, but that will moderate, hopefully gently and consistently. We don’t want it to change drastically,” he said.

Greenberg said one of the pricing struggles could be finding a balance with U.S. product.

“We need a price that gets consumers to buy it over the competing summer fruit from the U.S., but we also need to match a price that will get shippers to bring the product in,” he said.

Kim Flores, marketing manager for Seald Sweet International, Vero Beach, Fla., thinks the start of the Peruvian deal will help retailers.

“The gap between California clementines and the start of the import programs has created a dip in sales revenues for retailers. Fortunately, we have an earlier start to the season this year which will allow them to regain the momentum of sales,” Flores said.

Minimal challenges

Any challenges this season should be minimal, according to industry professionals, with market competition toping the list.

“The main challenge is competition in the market place, along with increased energy costs and currency fluctuations. The U.S. dollar isn’t as strong in relation to exporting growers as it used to be,” Greenberg said.

Yunta said she doesn’t foresee any major challenges, noting that the quality issues from the previous year seem to be resolved.

“We’re prepared to handle the season and hope to have a successful operation,” she said.

“The quality issues have been solved and we don’t expect anything out of the ordinary.”

Flores is also optimistic about the coming season.

“Quality from the first arrivals has been extremely favorable with good flavor and great color,” Flores said.

Other growers and shippers agree.

“Everything looks good this year. The weather’s been good and there’s nothing to lead us to think there will be any problems,” Hanks said.

“Growers say the quality is excellent out of Peru, Miller said.

A transition to colder weather will help the color of the fruit, which will lead to good arrivals, Miller said.

“It’s been a good growing year so far,” he said.

“Sizing is fairly typical, which in general is on the large side compared to other countries like Chile or South Africa.”