This 26 page report from USDA FAS represents the latest and best intelligence on the Japanese citrus market. Here are some excerpts on the trade for clementines/tangerines and grapefruit....

From the report:

Post estimates Japanese production of fresh tangerines/mandarins in MY2010/11 to be 968,000 metric tons, an 11 percent decrease compared to last season. This estimate includes the ?unshu mikan tangerines and late variety tangerines of ?iyokan and ?hassaku. The ?unshu mikan tangerines are by far the largest Japanese tangerine crop. As part of the tree’s natural production cycle, output alternates between high and low every season. Correspondingly, this season Japanese tangerines trees are experiencing what is typically referred to as an ?off-year and are likely to yield a lower crop than the last year. Hence, for MY2010/11 post estimates the ?unshu mikan tangerine production to be 900,000 metric tons, about a 10 percent decrease from the previous season.

Consumption: Tangerines are one of Japan’s favorite fresh fruit, representing approximately 16 percent of fresh fruit consumption. Since 2001, Japanese annual household consumption of fresh fruit has been annually declining. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC), in 2009 the annual consumption of fresh tangerines was 13.8 kilogram per household, compared to 15 kilograms in 2008, with total expenditures of $57.40 (4,726 yen)*. This is the average consumption per (two-or-more people) household. In Japan, younger people tend to eat significantly fewer tangerines than older people. Younger generations prefer the ease of eating fruit that does not require peeling. Young Japanese mothers, for example, are introducing their children to more ready- to-eat fruits. In fact, Japanese citrus traders fear that upcoming generations may grow up unaccustomed to peeling fruit. Hence, this consumption trend remains a concern for traders.

Trade: For MY2010/11, post estimates Japanese world imports of fresh tangerines to be approximately 12,000 metric tons, a 10 percent increase from the previous season. In MY 2009/10, Japanese imports of U.S. tangerines bounced back to 2001 levels to 9,128 metric tons, an increase of 27 percent from last season. These imports were valued at approximately $12 million (CIF). The United States is by far the largest supplier of fresh tangerines to Japan, shipping Minneola tangelos* and other tangerine varieties. Other fresh tangerines suppliers include Australia, New Zealand and Chile. Fresh tangerine supplies from Australia declined approximately 30 percent in MY2009/10 due to a spike in Australian prices (approximately 17 percent higher than the previous year.) Higher Australian prices and a favorable exchange rate largely contributed to the increase in Japanese imports of U.S. tangerines.

Grapefruit trade: In MY2009/10, Japanese total grapefruit imports declined for a third year to 167,783, down 7 percent from last season. Nonetheless, the strong yen is encouraging Japanese importers to increase their trading activities. The current exchange rate is 82 yen per dollar (based on the Nikkei News quote on November 12, 2010) compared to 88 yen per dollar a year ago.

Despite Japan’s current economic recession, the yen’s buying power continues to increase. Hence, post anticipates Japanese world imports of grapefruit to rebound in MY2010/11 and marginally increase to 175,000 metric tons. The United States is the largest supplier of fresh grapefruit to Japan, supplying approximately 70 percent of the total Japanese imports.

The United States supplied 117,140 metric tons of fresh grapefruit in MY2009/10, a slight increase from last season and valued at $136 million on a CIF basis. About 95 percent of U.S. grapefruits shipped to Japan come from Florida followed by California and Texas. According to Florida Department of Citrus, in MY2010/11 Japanese imports of Florida grapefruit are expected to be around 6.6 million cartons, or 112,000 metric tons, an increase of 5 percent from MY2009/10.

The weight per carton for Florida grapefruit is approximately 17 kilograms. This season’s Florida grapefruit sales began in October and are expected to last until June of 2011. Peak sales are likely to take place in February through May, when the grapefruit flavor reaches maturity.

According to Tokyo traders, due to short rainfalls during the Florida growing season, the new crop yielded smaller sized fruit but they predict the fruit will be high quality and with good flavor.

South Africa is the other major supplier to Japan, sharing approximately 28 percent of the total imports (including imports from Swaziland). In MY 2009/10, Japanese imports of South African grapefruit decreased unexpectedly by 23 percent to 46,818 (South Africa and Swaziland) valued at $32 million of a CIF basis. South African grapefruits are sold during the summer season and therefore do not compete directly with Florida grapefruit in the Japanese market. Usually, South Africa’s new crops arrive in June and are actively sold until September but this was not the case during MY2009/10. According to Tokyo traders, in the summer of 2010, excess stocks of Florida grapefruit in the Japanese market and a poor South African crop discourage Japanese traders from importing further. As a result of reduced import volumes,

South African grapefruit was almost sold out in the Japanese market by August, significantly earlier than traders expected. In addition, domestic fresh fruit supply was running low due to Japan’s record high summer temperatures. By early fall, there was a shortage of fresh grapefruit in the Japanese market. This created a great opportunity for California grapefruit growers.

In September 2010, California was able to supply Japan with a significant amount (double that of the previous season) of the ?Summer Ruby grapefruit variety and thereby mitigate Japan’s market shortage. Japanese traders expect imports of South African grapefruit will normalize by next season.

For MY2010/11 post estimates Japanese imports of South African grapefruit to increase marginally to 3.2 million cartons (including shipments from Swaziland) or 48,000 metric tons. Japan’s unusually low import volumes this past summer affected not only imports from South Africa but also imports of California ?Star Ruby grapefruit. Since this variety is typically shipped to Japan from April to June, imports of ?Star Ruby were slashed by half compared to the previous season. Nonetheless, since this decline was mostly offset by the spike in imports of California ?Summer Ruby (typically shipped during September-October).

This season total Japanese imports from California decreased by 6 percent. In MY2010/11, as summer imports go back to normal, Japanese traders expect import volumes of California varieties will do the same. That being said, while importers prefer South African grapefruits because of their competitive price, the reliability that California grapefruit supplies displayed this past summer could translate into future opportunities for the ?Summer Ruby variety.

Additionally, Texas supplies the ?Rio Star (red/ruby) grapefruit variety to the Japanese market from October through March. According to Tokyo traders, in MY2010/11 the Texas ?Rio Star grapefruit crop will likely yield high quality fruit with good flavor.

Thus, Japanese traders anticipate good sales of ?Rio Star grapefruit. Israel supplies a green-colored grapefruit variety called ?Sweetie to the Japanese market. ?Sweetie is sold in December and January. The import volume of ?sweetie grapefruit was expected to return to normal levels to about 5,000 metric tons a year. Yet, in MY2009/10, ?sweetie imports increased marginally but remained below average and continued on a declining trend. Traders report that until recently multiple Japanese importers were handling ?sweetie shipments. However, it appears that the novelty that the ?sweetie grapefruit once enjoyed among Japanese consumers is fading. Correspondingly, only one company is now importing ?sweetie  by a chartered vessel and the import volume is not expected to change. Hence, for MY2010/11 post estimates, Japanese imports of Israel ?Sweetie to hold steady at the MY2009/10 level.

Japanese MRL Issues: In Japan, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW) quarantine officials check for chemical residues on imported products by conducting regular monitoring tests at the port of entry. In addition, imported crops, along with domestically produced crops, are also monitored at the retail level by local government laboratories. Currently, no chemical maximum residue limits (MRL) violations have been found in imports of fresh U.S. grapefruit. MRL violations can be found in the following MHLW website: To find MRLs for certain agricultural chemicals in Japan, please refer to the following website: The Japan Food Chemical Research Foundation