Grower-shippers report that weather has allowed for good lemon volumes from the U.S. and elsewhere.
Companies source the fruit from California, Mexico and Southern Hemisphere countries including Chile, South Africa, and, most recently, Argentina.
Alex Teague, chief operating officer for Santa Paula, Calif.-based Limoneira, gave a rundown of the regions.
In California, the March rains have proved a great help, though higher winds have resulted in some fruit being downgraded, Teague said. Chile and Argentina experienced ideal growing conditions, while South Africa continues to face drought, which causes issues with size and quality.
Mexico, where Limoneira grows lemons and limes, saw a moderate freeze this winter, so the bloom cycle is just beginning. The crops could be down due to cooler weather, Teague said.
“Lemons are in good balance with demand as we see a very active summer on the demand side,” Teague said.
Zak Laffite, chief sales officer for Delano, Calif.-based Wonderful Citrus, also reported adequate supplies of the fruit.
“Lemon volume has been steady overall for the year,” Laffite said. “We have had a recent surge during the Easter holiday, which is normal.”
Joan Wickham, director of communications for Valencia, Calif.-based Sunkist Growers, projected interest in the fruit will rise as summer draws near. The company produces lemons in the Central Valley of California and in Ventura County, regions it refers to as District 1 and District 2.
“Lemon and lime demand continues to be incredibly strong and as the weather gets warmer, (and) we only expect demand to increase with graduation celebrations and summer entertaining ahead,” Wickham said. “Sunkist’s District 1 harvest is over halfway complete with near 80% of the crop harvested. District 2 is also shipping lemons with good movement and over 40% of the crop harvested. With lime prices increasing, there is opportunity for lemons to substitute for limes, particularly in foodservice channels.
“Specialty lemon demand has also been rising, following the overall trend of the category,” Wickham said. “Sunkist is shipping meyer lemons from District 1 and District 2. Smaller volumes of seedless lemons and pink variegated lemons are also available.”
Laffite noted that overall quality for lemons has been good.
“We’ve had a balanced size mix, skewing slightly larger with fruit from our valley production, perfect for retail,” Laffite said. “Our coastal production skewed slightly smaller, perfect for our food services partners.”
As for other factors affecting the lemon deal, Teague mentioned Chinese tariffs and other political problems but said those issues will eventually go away.
Laffite said huanglongbing is still an ongoing concern for lemons and citrus in general.
“The regulations and protocols in place for HLB prevention make lemon production more difficult, especially transporting fruit from harvest locations to packing,” Laffite said.
Another factor in the deal could be supply from Argentina, since lemons produced in the country recently received approval for import to the U.S., Laffite said.
Limoneira announced April 10 that it has partnered with several major growers in Argentina and expects its first shipments of Argentine lemons to the U.S. will arrive in the second half of May.
Total volume for U.S. shipments for the season is projected to be about 400,000 cartons, Teague said.