National Editor Tom Karst
National Editor Tom Karst

Clementines are getting a lot of press lately. The latest example is this coverage from The Los Angeles Times, serving as kind of a foodie primer on the history of the clementine in California. Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal recapped the remarkable rise of the Cuties and more recent drama in the marketing of the fruit. Here is coverage from The Packer on the Cutie marketing dispute and court case.

Also check out this article on the history of the clementines by the University of California-Riverside, and these offerings on clementines from Produce Pete and Paramount Citrus, and a story describing Paramount's new packinghouse.

One thing we know about clementines. We are eating a lot of them, and much more than we used to. Per capita retail availability of tangerines (including clementines) was 3.6 pounds per person in 2010, up nearly 40% from 2006.

A recent news release from California Cuties,  a joint venture between Paramount Citrus, Sun Pacific and Fowler Packing, said the estimate for this season's potential Cuties crop was around 90 million (five-pound) cartons. The crop is marketed from November to April.

No comparison was given with last year's volume  in the release, but the WSJ piece said 75 million cartons were marketed in 2011-12.

The release said Cuties will be supported in the market by a national  television advertising campaign will begin airing this December during prime-time shows such as “Private Practice,” “Survivor” and “The X Factor."

Acreage of mandarins and mandarin hybrids (including clementines) has trended higher. Check out the 2012 California Citrus Acreage report here.

In fact, the California citrus acreage survey reveals mandarin/clementine  production will continue to grow as more non-bearing clementine acreage comes on line. In 2012, 16% of California mandarin acreage was not yet bearing fruit, compared with 6% for grapefruit and just 3% for navel oranges.

Navels still rule in California, with total navel acreage of 130,000 acres compared with 43,000 acres for clementines/mandarins. But the easy-peeling citrus is gaining traction.

As California clementine output has soared, U.S. imports of Spanish clementines have sagged, from $98 million in 2007 to $79 million in 2011. Other Southern Hemisphere clementine suppliers have fared better.

If the aging citrus relative grapefurit has struggled to define itself, the Cutie and other clementine brands have had all the breaks and buzz, with more apparently to come.