The summer citrus season is underway, with a bevy of items from California and the Southern Hemisphere.
The California industry has started harvesting valencia, or summer, oranges, said Joel Nelsen, president of the Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual.
“The crop size is comparable to last year, quality and size are positive and that product harvested is targeted, presently, to the export market inasmuch (as) our navel orange season is still moving considerable volume into the domestic market,” Nelsen said.
Santa Paula, Calif.-based Limoneira Co. is anticipating ample citrus volumes this summer, said Alex Teague, CEO.
“All of our citrus crops are in great shape, and quality is good,” Teague said.
The season has been a bit late in starting, but that’s not a big issue, Teague said.
“With great supplies from California, this is working out nicely for our customers,” he said.
“Lemons and lemon specialties become the featured item in summer and both retail and foodservice business really kicks into gear as the weather gets nicer, so we are excited to see these growth trends continue this summer.”
Summer citrus is a big part of a year-round portfolio at Wonderful Citrus, said Erin Shiba, in corporate communications with Los Angeles-based The Wonderful Co.
The five-year average growth rate for Wonderful’s summer citrus category is 7%, which is being heavily supported by growth in mandarins, at 20% annual growth; limes, 10%; and lemons, 6%, Shiba said.
“We anticipate this growth to continue in those same subcategories,” she said.
“In addition to building out our mandarin and lemon supply, we have also focused on increasing our lime capacity and opening new receiving ports/shipping locations to service all regions of the U.S.”
The Southern Hemisphere, particularly Chile, looks to the U.S. as a prime destination for summer citrus, said Karen Brux, managing director of the San Carlos, Calif.-based Chilean Fresh Fruit Association.
“From clementines to lemons, mandarins and navels, Chile has it all,” she said.
As the premier Southern Hemisphere citrus supplier to North America, Chile commenced shipping at the end of April, Brux said.
Global exports of Chilean citrus reached 421,858 boxes — 6,707 tons — through mid-May, up 2% over the same period last season, with 96% of this volume shipped to the U.S.; 3.6% to the Far East; and the remaining 0.4% to Europe, Brux said.
During the week of May 13, Chile exported 252,413 boxes, or 4,017 tons, of citrus, consisting of 93% clementines and 7% lemons, Brux said, noting that the association was expecting navels to start moving out of Chile by the end of May, with mandarins in early June.
For the U.S. market, the Chilean citrus season was just getting underway.
Through May 17, exports of Chilean clementines to the U.S. totaled 402,395 boxes, or 6,373 tons, up 17% over the same date in 2018, Brux said.
The East Coast accounted for a 76% share (304,364 boxes, 4,819 tons) and the West Coast, the remaining 24% (98,031 boxes, 1,553 tons).
Lemon shipments to the U.S. also began in week 19 (the week of May 6), with 4,320 boxes (74 tons) shipped to the West Coast.
The Chilean citrus industry anticipates similar overall volumes of citrus in comparison to last year, with total volume reaching 350,000 tons versus 358,000 in 2018, Brux said.
“Clementine volume is expected to have the greatest variation, falling by eight percent to 58,000 tons; this was not unexpected,” she said, noting that Chilean clementine production jumped 53% in 2018.
“After a year of high production, blooms tend to be less intense,” she said.
The overall trend for Chilean clementine volume is incredibly positive,” Brux said. “In 2017, we shipped 40,687 tons of clementines to North America, and this year, the estimate is 58,000 tons. That’s an increase of 43% in just two years.”
Weather conditions have cooperated in Chile, Brux said.
“Expectations are high for a strong Chilean citrus season,” she said.
“Weather and growing conditions have provided the ideal scenario for good brix and sizing, and the Chilean Citrus Committee is working with retailers across the U.S. and Canada to promote from now through November. The committee is confident that consistently high-quality fruit and strong marketing support will be the right combination to generate demand and drive sales.”
Interest in newer varieties remains high, Brux said.
“Cara cara is a very unique red navel orange variety, and it’s relatively new for Chile,” she said, noting that Chile has more than 150 hectares — about 371 acres — of this variety.
“Cara cara accounts for less than 5% of all navels, but strong demand has resulted in more growers jumping onboard,” Brux said. “Volume jumped from just 1,400 boxes in 2017 to 43,000 boxes in 2018.”
For mandarins, w. murcott still represents most of the category, but the tango and orri varieties are growing “exponentially”, Brux said.
“Tango is an appealing variety for growers because it’s slightly earlier than w. murcott,” she said, adding that tango volume grew by 118% from 2017-18, and orri by nearly 240%.
“Research and development is crucial for the continued growth of the Chilean citrus industry,” Brux said.