When it comes to summer citrus in the U.S., buyers have plenty of options.
Australia ships primarily to the West Coast, while South Africa ships primarily to the East Coast. Chile (as well as its neighbor Peru) ships to both coasts.
Chile’s citrus exports to the U.S. are expected to dwarf South Africa’s this season with Chile projected to send 22 million cartons of clementines and mandarins compared to 2 million to 2.5 million for South Africa, according to Tom Cowan, South African sales manager for Fort Pierce, Fla.-based DNE World Fruit Sales, which imports fruit from both countries.
Cowan said Chile is expected to ship about 3.5 million cartons of navels to the U.S., compared to 2 million for South Africa and 1 million to 1 .5 million for Australia.
So how does South African counter Chile’s sheer volume and ability to deliver to either coast?
“This year the early pickings on South African were at 10 or 11 on brix, which makes for very good eating, and the acid level was ideal,” Cowan said.
“The premium quality of South African citrus for the U.S. competes with any superior offerings in the market for the summer season. It is a reputation hard-earned and rigorously defended by the producers who commit to ending only the very best quality to the U.S. market,” said Johan Mouton, chairman of the Western Cape Citrus Producers Forum.
“That will continue in the 2013 season with an eye only toward further improvement when possible.”
Buyers looking for bigger sizes also might gravitate to South Africa’s offerings.
“The South African citrus crop overall has been faring very well with adequate rainfall during the growing time,” Cowan said.
“The fruit size is probably one size bigger this year compared to last season with clementines peaking on 28/32s, and navels peaking on 64/72s.”
By comparison, Cowan said Chilean navels likely would be 72s or smaller, and clementines likely would peak at 36/40s.
“Chilean fruit will be smaller,” he said.
In the end, whose fruit ends up where depends on retailer preference. Freight rates, based on port of entry and final destination, obviously play a factor in that decision.
“You’re going to see that west of the Mississippi its Chile and Australia, and east of the Mississippi its Chile and South Africa,” he said.
South Africa also faces competition from domestic fruit. South Africa’s navel harvest starts by early May with arrivals in the U.S. expected by early June. However, volumes will not increase until late July when California’s crop is expected to finish, Cowan said.
The South African deal winds down in early to mid-November with midknights and late mandarins as oranges and clementines from California (as well as clementines from Spain) become available.