A systems approach was recently approved for Chilean lemon imports, which would allow fruit meeting specific requirements to enter the U.S. without fumigation. ( Chilean Fresh Fruit Association )

While the availability of variety citrus is spurring more options for retailers, the summer citrus deal is about to get a big ray of sunny, yellow supplies: long-awaited Argentinean lemons have started to arrive.

They’re coming just in time to keep momentum, said John Chamberlain, director of marketing for Santa Paula, Calif.-based Limoneira.

“Supplies of Argentinean lemons are looking very good,” he said May 30.

“We expect Argentinean lemons to help expand the category as supplies will be coming in (since) supplies of domestic lemons are tighter.”

The first boat of lemons left Argentina on April 18, marking the first time the country has had access to the U.S. market since 2001.

An estimated 15,000 and 20,000 metric tons of lemons are expected in June and July, according to a news release.

Lemons are a popular summer promotion item, with the number of stores on ad up 33% from 2013-17, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Retail Report.

An average of 1,500 stores featured lemons on ad from mid-June to the end of September, up from 1,100 in 2013.

Chile’s citrus exports to North America, including clementines, mandarins, lemons and navels, increased 18% in 2017, said Karen Brux, managing director for the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association.

“The largest growth was seen in mandarins, which grew 43% (in 2017) from 50,844 tons to 72,858 tons,” Brux said.

Chilean lemons are up for expanded imports, too, Brux said.

“The recent approval of systems approach for Chilean lemons is great news for the North American market,” she said.

“This will allow lemons that meet specific requirements to enter the U.S. without fumigation.”

With systems approach, the cold chain will remain intact, which ensures lemons arrive in the best possible condition, she said.


Easy peel, easy sales?

Consumer demand has shifted production toward easy-peel mandarins, and has shifted the industry to import regions with strong supplies of easy-peel citrus, like Chile and South Africa, said Mark Carmel, director of corporate communications for Wonderful Citrus, Los Angeles.

“But, to ensure that demand keeps up with that supply, amidst a very crowded produce department and stiff competition from other summer fruits, we must ensure that there is more consistency in product quality to guarantee that consumers will have a positive eating experience and keep coming back for more,” Carmel said.


Summer competition

With a wide variety of fruit in season domestically, it’s important to remind consumers citrus is an option, Chamberlain said.

Limoneira has some creative ways to grab attention.

“We’ve always been known for our lemons, but we offer a wide variety of citrus and innovative merchandising programs that retailers and foodservice operators can use to build sales,” he said.

Grilling is a huge opportunity for citrus.

“It’s time for great outdoor activities like picnics at the beach, hiking in the mountains, and a variety of great family time pursuits,” Chamberlain said.

“We’ve got some great citrus grilling tips and citrus summertime drink and meal recipes from Limoneira spokesperson Megan Roosevelt, aka The Healthy Grocery Girl.”

They include video recipes, and merchandising available to retailers.

In 2017, Chile ran promotions in more than 40 retail chains across the U.S., including the first citrus campaign in Canada for Chilean citrus.

“With continued growth across all citrus categories, we plan to increase our investment in the North American market this year,” Brux said.

“Our main focus will continue to be on supporting the trade in their promotions of Chilean citrus.”

That includes digital coupons, sales/display promotions, in-store videos, social campaigns and merchandiser support.

The committee also has videos, with the “hands n’ pans” style common for social media sharing with easy, healthy and tasty ideas for lemons, mandarins and navels.

“These will be used on Fruits from Chile social media platforms, and also shared with retailers so they can incorporate them into their social media programs,” she said.