South African citrus exports to North America are expected to be up this year, but importers expect no trouble moving that extra product.

“They’re approaching this year aggressively,” Kim Flores, marketing manager for Seald Sweet International Inc., Vero Beach, Fla., said of South African shippers.

The summer citrus category as a whole has gotten bigger in recent years, but demand always seem to be there to meet it, Flores said. And 2012 shouldn’t be any different.

“Each year consumer demand continues to absorb (the larger volumes),” she said.

As for the other big players in the North American summer citrus deals, South Africa has found it easy to coexist with them, Flores said.

“Your natural instinct is to compete, but I think they complement each other.”

The Western Cape Citrus Producers Forum has done an excellent of working with importers to generate retail excitement for South African citrus, Flores said.

“We work directly with them to custom-tailor programs to our retailers’ needs,” she said. “And each year growers seem to be more involved in continue to develop the category as a respected, solid category. Retailers realize it’s a great source of increased revenue.”

Grower visits to U.S. grocery stores, for example, are a great boon to Seald Sweet’s customers’ South African programs, Flores said.

“Not only do they generate excitement, but they educate consumers about the people, the growing practices and the uniqueness of the country of origin.”

Late-season draw

Seald Sweet expects strong demand again this year for newer late-season navel and clementine varieties, Flores said.

The autumn gold and cambria navel varieties that debuted in 2011 feature bright color, high brix levels and “exceptional flavor,” Flores said. The late-season clementine variety marketed by Seald Sweet, the clemengold, may be even better.

“In my opinion, it’s the best clementine/mandarin variety worldwide,” Flores said.

Tom Cowan, South African sales manager for Fort Pierce, Fla.-based DNE World Fruit Sales, has high hopes for his company’s 2012 South African citrus program.

“We expect the summer imported citrus programs to continue to grow in volume as retailers find this category to continue to grow in sales,” Cowan said.

Marc Solomon, senior vice president for South African procurement for Montreal-based Fisher Capespan, also expects strong North American demand for South African citrus this summer and fall.

“The advent of a summer citrus program offering the full panoply of easy-peelers, navel oranges and grapefruit has been welcomed by U.S. retailers,” he said.

That could be particularly true this season, Solomon said, given that California was affected by a midseason freeze that will, he said, make retailers more inclined to switch earlier from domestic to Southern Hemisphere production.

“It should create good, strong early demand for easy peelers as well as for navels,” he said.

Chile, like South Africa, is expected to have a bigger U.S.-bound citrus crop this year, Solomon said. However, he’s not worried about demand for South Africa product suffering as a result.

“The U.S. is a very big market and should be able to absorb this volume,” he said.

Demand this season for fruit shipped by Fisher Capespan, Solomon said, will depend on the company’s ability to deliver high-quality fruit at a good value.

The key, he said, is to convince consumers to make South African citrus “a regular part of their weekly grocery bag,” and he said Fisher Capespan is up to the challenge.

“We have a track record of doing this, and we expect to continue,” he said.

Demand for South African citrus should continue on the trajectory established over the past several years, said Gerrit van der Merwe, chairman of the Citrusdal, South Africa-based Western Cape Citrus Producers Forum.

Namely, upward.

“Consumer demand continues to grow year over year,” he said. “Each season we see that the market is still in a growth mode — one where consumers will buy what is available in the markets.”

U.S. importers and retailers have specifically asked for more South African clementines this season, van der Merwe said. And midknights are expected to build on a very strong 2011.

“The quality and demand for midknights last year was remarkable,” he said.