( Courtesy Bee Sweet Citrus )

Mandarins continue to gain popularity throughout the U.S., grower-shippers say.

“They are easy to peel and widely accepted as the healthy snack of choice among kids and parents alike,” said Christina Ward, director of global brand marketing for Sunkist Growers Inc., Valencia, Calif.

Adam Cooper, senior vice president of marketing for Los Angeles-based The Wonderful Co., expects Wonderful Halos to be ripe and ready to ship to stores by late October or early November.

“Growing conditions so far have been good,” he said in early October, “and we expect a steady crop of citrus timed with the start of Wonderful Halos’ California mandarin season.”

Based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture Citrus Summary report published in August, the company estimates that California mandarins — excluding tangelos — grew by nearly 35% last season because of a heavier-than-average crop and additional acreage.

This year’s crop of clementines and mandarins may be 15% lighter than last year’s, he said, but some of that reduction will be offset by new acreage.

Johnston Farms, Edison, Calif., expects to see “outstanding” quality on its satsuma mandarins, said Derek Vaughn, citrus sales manager.

Fruit size is coming along well, too, he said in early October. Picking should start in mid-November.

Volume may be a bit lighter than last year industrywide because the fruit is alternate bearing, he said, but Johnston Farms has added some acreage.

Gold Nugget mandarins from Cecelia Packing Corp., Orange Cove, Calif., won’t start until March, after other varieties begin to wind down and before imported mandarins come on, said salesman Keith Wilson.

“Mandarins are stealing the show in the citrus category right now,” he said.

But despite strong demand, Cecilia Packing has not expanded its mandarin program.

“We have a limited offering that we’re going to market with,” he said.

Suntreat Packing & Shipping Co., Dinuba, Calif., a division of AC Foods, does not choose to compete with the major mandarin brands either, said Dan Kass, vice president of sales and business development.

The company continues to expand its proprietary Sumo brand citrus — a large mandarin that originated in Japan in late 1970s, he said.

The company’s “third or fourth decent commercial crop” will be available from early January through mid-April, he said.

“It is the best-eating citrus on the shelf, bar none,” Kass said. “It has an unbelievable and very consistent flavor profile.”

Sunkist’s Ward said that several varieties besides easy-peel satsuma mandarins will be available this winter and spring, including minneola tangelos, royal and Gold Nugget mandarins, and fairchild and ojai pixie tangerines.    

And production of organic mandarins continues to grow, she added.

“We’re seeing a high demand among consumers, and last year, organic mandarin sales were up 39%.” 

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