FRESNO, Calif. — Specialty citrus, including various types of mandarins, pummelos and orange varieties like cara caras and blood — or moro — oranges, are claiming a larger part of the citrus category than ever, and some see preventing these increasingly popular varieties from cannibalizing the navel category as a growing challenge.

Clementines have fast become a retail favorite, said Atomic Torosian, partner in Crown Jewels Marketing & Distribution LLC, Fresno.

They’ve become a year-round crop, with product coming in from Spain, Peru, Chile, South Africa, Morocco and even Italy at various times of the year as well as California.

Some growers are removing older navel and stone fruit trees as well as table grapes and planting clementines, he said.

Crown Jewels expects to have greater volume of specialties this season, Torosian said, with clementines starting as early as mid-November.

The easy-peel mandarin program at Mulholland Citrus in Orange Cove should kick off by mid-October with satsumas, which will be available until mid-December, followed by clementines from the first week of November to January, and w. murcott mandarins from late January into early May, said Fred Berry, director of marketing.

“All we deal in are easy-peel citrus,” he said.

That’s because those commodities are complementary to one another, they are best handled by the machinery the company has, and the firm is invested in them in terms of acreage and growers, he said.

Navels, he said, are a mature market, while mandarins are expanding.

Volume of seedless mandarins will increase again this season because of increased plantings and new trees reaching maturity, said Joel Nelsen, president of Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual.

To some extent, that increase will be at the expense of navel oranges.

“Our task as an industry is to increase the entire category of citrus sales so the mandarins aren’t cannibalizing the navels,” he said. “Right now, the objective is to combat the influx of offshore mandarins that have eaten into navel shelf space.”

Nelsen isn’t writing off navels by any means.

“A good, old-line Washington (variety) navel is still one of the best pieces of fruit in the marketplace,” he said. “People like the navel orange.”

Another demographic likes the mandarins, he said, because they are easy to peel, have no seeds and have a consistent good flavor and size.

The challenge lies in marketing, he said.

“We’ve got to convey to the consumer that you can have both.”

Sunkist Growers Inc., Sherman Oaks, offers just about all the mandarin varieties, said Claire Smith, director of corporate communications.

There’s no mechanism to precisely measure mandarin volume, she said, “but as a whole, the mandarin crop is way up.”
Growers also expect a large crop of cara cara oranges, but the blood orange crop should be down, and the pummelo crop may be smaller than last year’s, she said.

Cara cara volume will be up this year at Cecelia Packing Corp., Orange Cove, said Randy Jacobsen, sales manager.

Shipping should start in early December and continue until early to mid-April, running parallel to the mandarins, he said.

The cara cara is a unique variety that sells in bulk rather than in bags and offers an alternative to navel oranges, he said.

It’s a low-acid piece of citrus that is becoming increasingly popular among consumers who are sensitive to acidic fruit.

“Many people can eat a cara cara more comfortably than a navel,” he said.