Peru has found its niche in late-season varieties like minneolas and w. murcotts, but growers are working to improve quality on early season varieties as well.
“We see a lot of potential in the U.S. market,” said Estuardo Masias, general manager of Lima, Peru-based Prolan and part owner of La Calera, Chincha, Peru.
“The per capita consumption during the summer is a fraction of what it is in the United Kingdom or Canada, so we believe there is a lot of room for growth.”
Paul Marier, vice president of sales and marketing for Cape Town, South Africa-based Fisher Capespan said the company plans to expand its Peruvian citrus deal considerably this year.
“It is very clear to me that, with rare exception, customers will take from all countries of origin,” Marier said.
“That’s why I say it’s really important to have all countries of origin if you are really going to provide to major retailers.”
Marier said some customers prefer Peruvian minneolas or the color of Chilean navels or the internal quality of South African citrus, but overall the key is to have year-round citrus availability.
Clementines, satsumas, navels
James Milne, citrus category director for The Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columbia, said citrus is a fairly stagnant category, but the easy-peeler sub-category including clementines and satsumas has seen “quite strong growth.”
Although minneolas are the highest demanded Peruvian citrus product in the U.S. market right now, David Mixon, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Seald Sweet International, Vero Beach, Fla., said there is a window that permits Peru’s clementines to enter the market at the same time as the early Chilean variety.
“The combination of Peru’s early clementines and Chile’s early clementines is by no means an oversupply situation,” Mixon said of the potential overlap in June.
“We have a huge market built on the clementines,” said Tom Cowan, Peruvian program manager for DNE World Fruit Sales, Fort Pierce, Fla.
Cowan said sourcing from Peru, Chile and South Africa has increased clementine imports from 4 million 5-pound cartons about five years ago to about 17 million industrywide.
Cowan also said satsumas, which are popular in Canada and the U.K., could be a more competitive product in the U.S. with consumer education.
“The biggest problem that we see is really the external color on them,” he said. “The brix for the ones we have on the market are close to 10, and ... that’s pretty good for satsumas. It’s not a real accepted fruit in the U.S.”
Cowan also said late mandarins from Chile and South Africa are much easier peeling with better shelf life and eating quality, while satsuma acid quality is low.
“You don’t have a tang to it that you would normally get off of some of the easy peelers,” he said. “So the sugar content could be high, but if you don’t have any acid in the fruit or very low, it tastes more like colored water than citrus.”
Milne said though satsumas are the leading variety for the Canadian market, there is some concern about their shelf life for the U.S. market after cold treatment.
He also said Peru simply does not have the preferred growing conditions for clementines.
“Their different microclimates don’t afford them the opportunity to grow,” he said, noting the sizing is also smaller on satsumas and clementines.
Marier said Peru is still a small player on navel oranges.
“I think the only thing out of Peru that is still struggling a bit is navels. They don’t have a lot of them,” he said.
“There is a little reluctance to go with the Peruvian navel” because of inconsistent cosmetic quality, Marier said.
“Really and truly, the minneola really is their flagship at this point,” Mixon said of the minneola deal expected to start the first week of July.
“Their minneolas are as good as any minneola grown globally.”
“I think the U.S. is probably the biggest market for their minneola crop,” Cowan said.
Marier said there are small volumes of minneolas from South Africa and Chile, but he agreed that Peru is the market leader.
“Peru has really taken control of the minneola market,” he said.
Cowan said he expects the total crop to be larger than last year, but exports to fill supply needs in Europe, the U.K., Russia and the Middle East.
He also said the minneola is not an item that is featured at supermarkets like clementines because of smaller audiences, but that it accounts for higher gross profits.
“It’s grown tremendously in the last five years,” he said. “It has probably doubled the market from what it was five years ago for minneolas overall between Australia and Peru.”
Cowan warned, however, that the window is not unlimited, noting that in 2008 when Peru shipped 500,000 boxes to the U.S., prices dropped to $10-12 a box.
“Last year, we did much better. F.o.b. sales were $16-17. Growers got a much better return last year,” he said. “It’s not always ‘more fruit is better.’”
Peruvian citrus growers know the U.S. market has high demands for color, internal quality and size. Until now, that has meant Peruvian product has struggled to compete with Chile.
“Peruvian citrus exporters are not afraid of competition,” said Fernando Cilloniz, general manager of data analyst Inform@ccion, Lima.
“They are certain of good color, flavor and the quality of their product.”
Mark Greenberg, vice president of procurement for Fisher Capespan, said American consumers are accustomed to the gold standard of California navels, making it that much harder for citrus importers to compete.
“Growing conditions make it more difficult to achieve the color required for the U.S.,” he said of Peru.
Greenberg said Peru strategically ships its produce to avoid the onset of preferred Chilean produce.
“The Peruvians, knowing that the Chilean clementines are going to start shipping and knowing that this market prefers clementines to satsumas, will usually direct to more traditional satsuma markets,” he said.
Greenberg said the mild flavor, lower acid and sugar levels of satsumas make them hard to compete with clementines.
“Clementines are a much punchier tasting piece of fruit: higher acids, higher sugars — their flavor is more amenable to the North American palette,” he said.
“The satsuma will do well when other soft citrus are not available.”
Greenberg said although the clementines are preferred, that does not necessarily mean they must be sourced from Chile.
“From what we have received from Peru, the clementines are excellent,” he said. “The key is not to oversupply a market. That’s what we are trying to do with the minneolas … build on the market each year.”