Lemons are among the summertime citrus favorites available from Sunkist Growers Inc., says Christina Ward, director of global brand marketing. The company’s product line also includes oranges, limes and grapefruit. ( Courtesy Sunkist Growers Inc. )

Good news has been a rarity since the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic broke out early this year. But there appears to be a bright spot when it comes to U.S. citrus sales.

Suppliers say citrus movement has been strong throughout the coronavirus crisis, with all categories continuing to show strong weekly increases over the same week last year.

According to data from Chicago-based market research firm IRI for the week ending May 3, sales of oranges were up 68%, lemon sales grew by 42.4% and tangerine movement increased 7.7%. 

Suppliers and nutritionists say at least part of the sales surge likely was due to the positive reputation vitamin C has earned when it comes to building a strong immune system.

As summer approaches, major citrus suppliers have made big plans for their summer programs.

Valencia, Calif.-based Sunkist Growers Inc. has California-grown citrus available year-round, said Christina Ward, director of global brand marketing.

“Our summertime favorites include lemons, grapefruit, valencia oranges and limes,” she said.

California- and Arizona-grown cara cara oranges were available through May, and navels should be on supermarket shelves through June.

“Our summer varieties will take over the scene around June, as we wind down on some of the other varieties,” Ward said.

Valencia oranges are the only U.S.-grown oranges available in the summer, and Sunkist is going into the season ready to keep the citrus category and U.S.-grown promotions going strong, she said.

“The fruit tastes excellent,” she said. “We see a good range of sizes for our summer citrus.”

Volume on lemons, grapefruit and valencias should be up this summer compared to last year, she added.

Fowler, Calif.-based Bee Sweet Citrus Inc. plans to offer navel oranges, valencia oranges, cara cara navels, mandarins, lemons and grapefruit this summer, said salesman Jason Sadoian.

Blood oranges also will be available through the end of July.

Bee Sweet’s grapefruit, valencia oranges and blood oranges are grown in California, he said. 

The company’s mandarins, navel oranges and cara cara navels are part of its offshore program with Chile.

Lemons are grown domestically and imported. 

“Our team anticipates that the quality of our summer citrus line will be excellent,” Sadoian said.

“Every box of fruit that ships out of our facility gets re-packed or re-styled for optimal quality control.”

Volume on all items should be similar to last year.

Visalia, Calif.-based Seven Seas, a division of Tom Lange Co. Inc., Springfield, Ill., will offer a one-source solution for California-grown valencia oranges, grapefruit and lemons this summer, said Brent Young, manager of sales.

“We expect quality to be very good on all items throughout the summer months with size curves ideal for both retail and foodservice markets,” he said.

Volume of valencia oranges likely will be light, and markets should be strong, he said, while lemons look to be near normal volumes with sizes peaking on 140s.

“Grapefruit quality looks great overall with very clean fruit and lots of juice (and) flavor,” Young said.

Seven Seas expects the supply chain to gain stability in retail movement, he said, and is “hopeful that foodservice recovery will come soon.”

“We anticipate strong sales in both export and domestic markets throughout the summer as sales recover from the COVID-19 interruptions,” Young said.

On the lemon scene, Santa Paula, Calif.-based Limoneira Co. currently is sourcing from its California coastal growing area, said Alex Teague, chief operating officer.

If needed, fruit will be brought to the U.S. from ranches in Chile and Argentina.

The company ships lemons year-round.

“For the current coastal crop, growing conditions have been almost ideal,” Teague said.

“We have had average to above-average rain and no frost, so the crop looks very good.”

Volume is the same as last year, he said, with more medium- to large-size fruit because of late-season rains and more fruit available for fresh market than last year. 

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