Southern Hemisphere citrus producers and importers are riding the popularity wave for mandarins and other easy-to-peel citrus varieties, and they say that sector will continue to grow.
Demand for summer citrus, in general, has continued to increase during the past decade, and importers say they also don’t see that waning any time soon.
“The volume of summer citrus imports continues to grow each year, and demand has grown along with it,” said Kim Flores, marketing manager for Vero Beach, Fla.-based Seald Sweet International. “Since the beginning of the Southern Hemisphere/summer citrus program in the late 1990s, we’ve seen the volumes of summer citrus imports into the U.S. quadruple.
“Demand for mandarins, clementines and the easy-peel category has continually grown tremendously, especially over the last several years. This is the growth commodity of the citrus category.”
Seald Sweet imports citrus, including navels and mandarins, from South Africa, Chile, Peru, Uruguay and Australia.
Nearly a decade in the making, Seald Sweet finally gained access for Uruguayan citrus to enter the U.S. market last season, when they imported a limited volume as test shipments.
“The quality of citrus from Uruguay is outstanding, and the availability of certain commodities nicely complements our existing lines of high-quality citrus from other regions,” Flores said.
This year, the grower-packer hopes to increase shipments.
Also a first last season was bringing citrus from the Mildura region of Australia through the port of Long Beach, Calif. It worked so well that Seald Sweet plans to increase the program substantially this year, said Dave Brocksmith, Australia category manager.
If the weather holds, DNE World Fruit Sales LLC, Fort Pierce, Fla., expects an increase in South African clementines and grapefruit this season, said Kathy Hearl, marketing promotions manager. Volumes of South African navels and red-flesh cara cara oranges should be similar to last year.
Chilean shipments of clementines started a couple of weeks earlier than last year and should have volumes similar to slightly higher than last season. Late Murcott tangor volume should be up while Chilean navels should be similar to slightly less than last year, she said.
But the grower-packer expects to see slightly fewer tangerines and minneolas and about the same volume of navels from Australia this season. Aussie Sweet mandarin volumes should be higher than last year.
Australian citrus producers nationwide have reported good growing conditions, with summer heat that promoted higher sugars and lower acidity, said Andrew Harty, market development manager, and Nathan Hancock, manager of market information and quality, both of Citrus Australia Ltd., Queensland.
Navels are running about one size down from last season, peaking at 72 and 88. But there won’t be a shortage of the larger-sized 56s for the U.S. program, they said in an e-mail.
Afourer tangor, a close relative of the mandarin, is peaking between 64-88, which is an ideal size for the U.S. market, Harty and Hancock said. Overall, growers down under expect a similar-sized orange program as last year — about 550 40-foot containers, with about 95% of those being navels. Included will be the new navel variety M7 and cara cara navel.
Southern hemisphere citrus faces heavy competition from other summer fruit, such as stone fruit, grapes, melons and apples. So Hearl said it’s important for retailers to be well informed of promotional opportunities. They also should advertise citrus regularly to keep it front of mind with consumers and create themed ads, such as back to school in August.
Point-of-sale materials and in-store sampling can be used to help educate consumers about imported citrus, she said.