Navel oranges from California and Arizona are longtime favorites in the winter citrus category, but specialty citrus items also are gaining favor with consumers, prompting many growers to add products such as minneolas, mandarins and cara cara oranges to their offerings.
Blood oranges and cara caras are increasingly popular items at Cecelia Packing Corp., Orange Cove, Calif., said Randy Jacobsen, sales manager.
The company will pack many more than last year, but that still will be a relatively small number — 10,000 to 12,000 packages. Volume will increase annually as more trees come into production.
“There are a lot of young ones in the ground,” Jacobsen said.
Both varieties should be available sometime in December.
Neither of the items is new, but interest in the specialty category has been picking up among mainstream customers across the U.S. as they look to add variety to their citrus sections.
“You’d be surprised where you’ll find them,” Jacobsen said.
SunWest Fruit Co. Inc., Parlier, Calif., also expects to see increased volume this year, especially on mandarins, said Doug Sankey, sales manager.
The company strives for a seedless mandarin program “from start to finish,” he said.
SunWest has made a concerted effort to isolate its ranches to prevent cross pollination with seeded varieties, and the firm has applied netting to trees in ranches that are susceptible to seeds.
“We have virtually created one of the few truly seedless programs in the industry,” Sankey said.
The company has the late-season afourer — a w. murcott variety — and will have increased supplies of the tango variety this year.
SunWest will start its clementines slightly later than usual — probably the last week of November.
Quality on clementines looks good with nice sets and sizing at least a half-size larger than last year, he said.
The firm’s cara cara production continues to increase, with picking starting in early January and continuing until the end of March or early April.
The cara caras will mimic the navels with good sizing, but won’t be a big crop volumewise, Sankey said.
In Arizona, Associated Citrus Packers Inc. in Yuma will have a light crop of minneolas that will start right after Thanksgiving and be in the marketplace the second week of December, said Mark Spencer, secretary-treasurer and chief operating officer.
Fruit size should be large, which is good because they won’t compete as much with tangerines, Spencer said.
The season winds down around the end of January because of the short crop resulting from a February freeze.
The minneola deal has been disappointing the past couple of years because mandarin sales are cutting into demand, especially on the back end of the deal in February and March, Spencer said.
“We will have to be more competitive to get more volume on the front end,” he said.
“All the citrus categories are looking at good quality and good size,” said Tom Wollenman, general manager for LoBue Bros. Inc., Lindsay, Calif.
LoBue Bros. plans to start its minneolas as soon as the desert deal is over, probably at the end of January, he said.
They should continue into March, he said.
The firm expects to start picking cara caras, which Wollenman calls the “pink navel,” in December and continue to March.
The company also plans a moro program in January. The moro is a type of blood orange.