Retailers are counting the days until the fall-winter citrus season begins.
“We love California citrus,” said Michael Mockler, director of produce operations for Thrifty Foods, a chain of 30 stores based in Victoria, British Columbia, and a division of Stellarton, Nova Scotia-based Sobey’s Inc.
“Winter is all about an explosion of citrus products,” he said.
Mockler said he looks forward to several grapefruit varieties and a half-dozen kinds of pummelos, meyer lemons, mandarins and Australian finger limes.
Winter citrus also is popular at Darrenkamps Food Market, a group of three stores based in Lancaster, Pa., said Tom Oberholtzer, produce manager of one of the stores.
“Over the last six or seven years, we’ve started to handle more California (citrus),” he said.
“(Growers) have really done well with their flavor. The flavor and color of the oranges is what really sells them.”
Six- or 8-pound bags are among the store’s biggest sellers because they offer a lot of fruit at a reasonable price, Oberholtzer said.
“It helps us stay in line with the bigger box stores with that type of package.”
Thrifty Foods also sells lots of bags, but during kids’ hockey and soccer season, Mockler sells several 20-pound half-cases and even full cases of oranges to parents looking for a nutritious treat that provides energy and hydration.
Citrus ranks among the top six categories at Thrifty Foods year-round, but it inches up to fourth place in winter.
Mockler said he features some type of citrus on ad every week during the winter.
In early fall, Darrenkamps stores had a 6-foot citrus section, but that will expand to 30 feet by the peak of the season and will include bagged and bulk product.
The stores feature either bagged or loose citrus on ad every week.
Darrenkamps also does well with clementines and mandarins.
Cuties mandarins “have really started to sell well over the last three to four years,” Oberholtzer said. “They’re a nice item to have when the (Spanish) clementines are done.
David Stone, an owner of Valhalla Sales & Marketing Co., Kingsburg, Calif., hopes retail customers will carry over the excitement they showed for summer fruit into citrus season.
Already some customers are looking at early-season promotions, he said in early October.
“We’ve had phenomenal markets on fruit this summer with a lot of retail promotions,” he said.
“If all the little pieces come together ... I would look to see us having the same type of success our winter citrus program.”
The new California Standard for maturity “will definitely help the entire industry,” he added.
“The customers will have a great eating experience from the first one they buy, and we’ll keep that customer through the entire season.”