Citrus retail business is booming, say California and Arizona citrus grower-shippers.
“There continues to be good demand for the product,” said Fred Berry, director of marketing for Mulholland Citrus, Orange Cove, Calif. “Our retail business grows every year as we have more product to offer.”
However, since retailers are now able to source oranges, mandarins and other citrus from growers around the world, citrus is available year-round and no longer is viewed by consumers as a seasonal item, Berry said.
That development has advantages and disadvantages.
While year-round availability helps consumption, he said, it dilutes the excitement that used to build around the start of the season.
Nonetheless, he said, consumers like California’s products and peak consumption begins in December, when California citrus shipments hit their stride.
Promotion is the key to maintaining strong retail sales, said David Stone, co-owner of Valhalla Sales & Marketing Co., Kingsburg, Calif.
“When we get our products in front of people, advertise and create excitement, products seem to move better,” he said, as long as pricing is kept in check.
“We need our retailers to push,” he said. “As shippers, we need to do our part to give them the tools to push.”
Booth Ranches LLC, Orange Cove, has come up with a way to help retailers promote citrus, said Neil Galone, vice president of sales and marketing.
The company has developed a dynamic, high-graphic 40- by 48-inch bin for navel oranges that does a better job of attracting shoppers’ attention than traditional plain, craft bins.
“When I see a bin at retail, it’s a pretty big billboard,” Galone said, and it’s often a missed opportunity to catch a consumer’s eye.
The price of the product is a consideration, he said, but a big display with a full bin of loose or bagged oranges shouts “value,” and “flavor” and encourages people to pick up some oranges, he said.
The organic citrus category also remains strong at retail, said Scott Mabs, director of marketing for Homegrown Organic Farms, Strathmore, Calif.
“(Citrus) has been a good item,” he said.
The success of the organic citrus category is due in part to the fact that citrus isn’t a high-end item, he said.
“Citrus is something people can afford organically,” Mabs said. “It’s a good fit for the retailer and the consumer.”
In some stores, the old standby — the navel orange — is starting to lose sales to mandarins and other kinds of citrus, some grower-shippers say.
Consumers see mandarins as a piece of fruit that is easy to peel and very convenient, Berry said.
They’re typically sold in a consumer pack, like a bag or a bag in a box.
However, he adds that navels still are a viable product.
“I wouldn’t sell them short,” he said.
Stone, who ships navels as well as satsumas and clementines at Valhalla Sales & Marketing, said the easy-peel fruit “is kind of the catch word.”
Navels remain “a fantastic-eating piece of fruit,” he said but, “the volume of the clementines and satsumas is definitely taking a toll on the early navel deal.”
However, Dennis Johnston, partner in Johnston Farms, Bakersfield, Calif., doesn’t think mandarins are cannibalizing navels at retail.
“Maybe it’s shifted the navel deal around a little bit — there are a lot more late-season navels than there used to be,” he said, “but the interest we get in our regular navel crop is as good as it’s ever been.”