Mandarins long-term will be the norm, says Derek Vaughn, citrus sales manager for Edison, Calif.-based Johnston Farms. The easy-peel aspect appeals to kids and adults alike, he says. ( Courtesy Johnston Farms )

Mandarins continue to gain popularity among consumers, often at the expense of navel oranges. But it’s way too soon to count navels out.

Overall, growth of the mandarin segment has been good for the entire citrus category, said Casey Creamer, president of Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual.

But he added that they do seem to be cutting into sales of navel and Valencia oranges.

“There’s always concern when one (citrus) commodity is competing with another,” he said.

Mandarins are grabbing the attention of parents who are “on the go and want to be able to hand a piece of fruit to a child and get on with their day,” said Keith Wilson, sales manager for Cecelia Packing Corp., Orange Cove, Calif.

“The mandarin fits that category very nicely,” he said. “That’s where a lot of the consumption is really growing.”

At first, mandarins were sold primarily in cartons, he said, but now they are transitioning into bags.

“It’s such a nice, big ring for the retailer,” Wilson said. 

Cecilia Packing offers a late mandarin called the Gold Nugget that starts in March.

“That’s always well received,” he said.

But mandarins tend to eat into navel sales and that “changes the supply dynamics,” Wilson said.

“People are going to have to look for new and exciting things to plant.”

Mandarins long-term will be the norm, said Derek Vaughn, citrus sales manager for Edison, Calif.-based Johnston Farms.

The easy-peel aspect appeals to kids, and mandarins enjoy the marketing push from the producers of the Halos (Wonderful Citrus) and Cuties (Sun Pacific) brands, he said.

By the end of January, SunWest Fruit Co. Inc., Parlier, Calif., will be in peak production on what are the industry’s largest mandarin varieties — tangoes and w. murcotts — said Gino DiBuduo, sales director.

But DiBuduo is not as quick to write off navels as some others suppliers.

Mandarins have had some influence on the navel market, but he pointed out that they are more expensive to farm, harvest and pack than navels, which means they have higher f.o.b.s.

“Navels have a really good place because they’re affordable,” he said, “and they still have a phenomenal flavor profile.”

California mandarins, like navels, had a “horrible season” last year with small sizing, a large crop and leftover offshore fruit that pulled prices down, Creamer said.

“Mandarin season last year was one of the worst on record,” he said.

Things are looking up this year with better sizing and less of an impact from imported fruit at the beginning of the season.

“We’re seeing much better prices for the mandarin market this season,” Creamer said

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