( Courtesy Chilean Citrus Committee )

For the first time, retailers saw growth this season in single rather than double digits in the easy-peeler category, so the commodity could be stabilizing.

Casey Ison, director of sales for AMC North America, Fresno, Calif., said easy-peelers are a big question mark for importers and retailers alike.

“We are all wondering if or when we will hit the plateau where consumer demand starts to taper off,” she said.

But easy-peelers continue to drive growth in the citrus category, said Mark Greenberg, president and CEO of Capesan North America, St. Laurent, Quebec.

And even if the category is stabilizing, easy-peelers remain popular and have gained additional exposure.

Sun Pacific’s Cuties brand mandarins are offered at McDonald’s, and Wonderful Citrus’ Halos brand mandarins are available at Starbucks.

“These partnerships seem to be working well in promoting easy-peelers,” said Joel Nelsen, president of the California Citrus Mutual, Exeter, Calif.

Pasadena, Calif.-based Sun Pacific Shippers will begin import of Chilean mandarins branded as Summer Cuties for shipments to customers by mid-June.

“We have a rigorous quality control process to ensure that fruit meets all of the strict specifications for the Cuties brand,” said Howard Nager, vice president of business development for Sun Pacific.

The clemenule variety will be available into the month of August and the w. murcott and tango varieties will be available mid-August through the beginning of the California season in November, said Nager.

Miles Fraser-Jones, director of global business development for Seven Seas Global Produce Network, Iselin, N.J., said the easy-peeler supply is increasing on a worldwide basis, but he doesn’t anticipate the market becoming saturated for the next few years.

When it comes to in-store promotions, retailers can highlight easy-peelers this summer as a perfect fit for summer picnics, kids’ soccer games and school lunches when kids head back to school in August.

“What about cross-merchandising easy-peelers with other picnic items, so you can get all the items for your picnic basket from one display?” suggested Karen Brux, managing director of the San Carlos, Calif.-based Chilean Fresh Fruit Association. “Or how about reminding parents with signage that easy-peelers are a convenient, healthy addition to their kids’ school lunches? Retailers could even set up a secondary display of mandarins next to the cashier or next to other popular school lunch items like chips.”

Easy-peeler consumption has been high during the domestic season, thanks to the California industry investing in high-impact promotions and advertising, said Rodrigo Lopez, citrus category manager, at Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group.

“This allows for a smooth transition into imported easy-peel mandarins, allowing the season to begin on a positive note,” he said.