A new maturity standard went into effect last year for California navel oranges, but growers say conditions have been so favorable that meeting the standard has been no trouble.
By requiring that navels meet a certain sugar/acid ratio, the industry hopes even the first navels to hit supermarket shelves each fall will be sweet and flavorful, prompting repeat sales.
“Adopting the California Standard will increase the probability that the consumer will have a positive eating experience when they purchase a navel orange,” California Citrus Mutual says on its website.
There’s concern that early tart or sour fruit can turn off consumers, who may wait weeks or even months before sampling navels again.
Under the California Standard, growers must hold back their fruit from the market until it reaches a specific sugar/acid ratio.
But growing conditions were so favorable last year that the fruit had met the standard by the time the fruit had adequate color and growers were ready to pack and ship.
Those same conditions should prevail this year.
“The California Standard so far has not impacted the start of the season at all,” said Neil Galone, vice president of sales and marketing for Booth Ranches LLC, Orange Cove, Calif.
There have been times, he said, when oranges have color but not flavor early in the season.
“That’s what the California standard is designed to correct,” he said.
This season and last season, growers had flavor and were waiting for color, he said.
“We had a nice warm summer, and heat brings on sugar and flavor,” Galone said. “By the time we get color, the flavor will be very good.”
At Moonlight Packing Corp., Reedley, Calif., president Russ Tavlan said it behooves grower-shippers to ship a quality product.
“Ultimately, the consumer is the judge that dictates the success or failure of the product that you ship, so every responsible shipper harvests the product when the product is ready to be harvested,” he said.
In late September, Jeff Olsen, president of Visalia, Calif.-based Chuck Olsen Co., said the new standard “wasn’t a major problem for us” last year, and he doesn’t foresee any problem with it this year, either, since the fruit already seems to be more mature than normal.
He said he’s in favor of programs that help ensure the quality of California citrus.
“The better job we do of making the customer happy, the more we’re going to move,” Olsen said.
Even with the California Standard, fruit shipped later in the season will taste better than early season product, said David Stone, an owner of Valhalla Sales & Marketing Co., Kingsburg, Calif.
Nonetheless, he supports the standard.
“Anything that will make the industry more uniform and give consumers a better experience every time they eat is a good thing,” he said, adding that it’s important to make sure everyone in the industry adheres to the standards.
Valhalla strives to offer a product that is “a few degrees of brix higher than what the minimum standards are,” he said.
Salesman John Senn expressed the same sentiment at SunWest Fruit Co. Inc. in Parlier, Calif.
“Our first criteria, especially when we start the season, is making sure we’re well above the minimum standards,” he said.