VERO BEACH, Fla. — Florida citrus grower-shippers remain optimistic that their category also can enjoy the gains in consumption other areas of produce are experiencing.
The optimism follows decreasing interest in grapefruit.
For Dan Richey, chief executive officer of Riverfront Groves LLC, it’s a matter of the industry being able to offer convenience packages.
“We are seeing a bit of a cultural issue relative to more convenience items in the U.S.,” he said. “Society is continuing to move to a convenience-based consumer who wants to pick up things on the run. We in the citrus industry don’t have a mechanism to deliver to consumers in that matter yet.”
The medicine interaction issue has prompted less consumer interest in grapefruit.
“Though there has been a general decrease in grapefruit consumption, we feel there’s a bright future for grapefruit because it has so many good aspects in terms of health,” said Matt Reel, director of sales for IMG Citrus Inc. “The big growth has been in clementines and easy peels, which make up 30% of the category. That’s pulling away from grapefruit, oranges and traditional tangerines. Because of that, the overall citrus category is growing and we think it’s a good thing.”
Consumption is only one of the many challenges confronting Florida citrus growers, said Dave Brocksmith, Florida citrus manager for Seald Sweet International.
“Consumption continues to decline on grapefruit and you have many different things growers are wrestling with,” he said. “There’s the drug interaction and media attention it’s received. The citrus industry has also contracted a great deal over the last decade here in Florida. That’s helped with profitability and being a grower here, for the ones that remain.”
The industry needs to do more to help increase demand, said Russell Kiger, sales manager of DLF International Inc.
“We as an industry need to continue to push it for consumption,” he said. “We are under such global pressure, especially on this zipper skin. California has expanded its Cuties program for sales east of the Mississippi River. That’s impacted every market. It’s a whole different deal than it was 20 years ago. We need to keep everyone pushing Florida fruit.”
Citrus is enjoying strong consumer demand, said Al Finch, vice president of sales and marketing for the Dundee-based Florida Classic Growers, the marketing arm of the Dundee Citrus Growers Association.
“Consumption in the overall citrus category is up,” he said. “Right now, we’re selling all the tangerines and navel oranges that we have. So the demand from our retail partners has been good for oranges and specialty citrus.”
Increasing societal interest in healthy foods is also driving citrus sales growth.
“In Florida citrus as a whole, we do see an increase in demand and business,” said Kevin Swords, Florida citrus sales manager for Fort Pierce-based DNE World Fruit Sales. “It’s good when you have the schools getting behind increasing consumption to promote better health. Consumer packaging is also helping interest the youth. You’re going to get impulse buys out of that.”