Build Your Citrus Portfolio


Logistics have already been developed so retailers can easily fill in the calendar with sources of all the major citrus varieties from spots around the globe.

“Having supply coming from at least two sources, such as the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, enables retailers to have a robust year-round availability,” says Paul Coffman, sales manager at LGS Specialty Sales, Ltd., Yonkers, NY. “For easy-peelers, Clementines and W. Murcotts are essential. One variety on Mandarins for consistency, carried in multiple pack sizes/types, is best — LGS offers fruit in a 5-pound box, 2-pound bag, and 3-pound bag to provide options.”

California is, by far, the single largest source of fresh-market citrus in the United States, and changes in the Golden State’s harvest show the shifting pattern of consumer preferences.

Navel orange acreage declined more than 10 percent in the decade ending in the 2016 harvest, while Valencia orange acreage dropped more than 30 percent, and lemon and grapefruit ground held steady. During that same decade, the acreage devoted to the popular Mandarin and Mandarin-hybrid varieties rippled, and production increased six-fold as the young orchards began to bear fruit.

“In the late-autumn, November through April, Northern Hemisphere sources of citrus will supply the market,” says Mark Greenberg, president and chief executive of Capespan North America, St. Laurent, PQ, Canada. “Traditional Mediterranean sources, such as Spain and Morocco, will supply some volume of Clementines and Mandarins to East Coast retailers, as will Israel. But California will dominate.”

Greenberg says retailers can remain in supply of easy-peelers and other essential varieties by following these transitions:

  • In May, easy-peeler supplies will transition to Southern Hemisphere sources, and Navel oranges will follow in late June.
  • Peru and Chile will offer the earliest easy-peelers, followed by South Africa.
  • With Navels, South Africa will be first to enter the market with supplies starting in June and continuing through September.
  • Chile will start a little later, with the earliest fruit arriving in July and continuing through the first weeks of October.
  • South African fruit will arrive on the East Coast, but Peruvian and Chilean citrus will arrive on both the East and West coasts.
  • Australian citrus will appear on the West Coast broadly following the Chilean timing.

Limes, meanwhile, are particularly easy to source because virtually all of them come from our neighbors to the south.

“We have limes 12 months of the year,” says Ronnie Cohen, vice president of sales at Vision Import Group, Hackensack, NJ. “95 percent of them are from Mexico, and the remaining 5 percent are from Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Guatemala.

“I’ve been doing limes for 30 years, and consumption has increased significantly in the past five years. … People’s culinary preferences have also changed, and they are using things they weren’t before. Hello Fresh uses limes prominently. But this is a yoyo, or a roller-coaster.”

But this fast-growing commodity is reaching U.S. markets through a pipeline that has little infrastructure to ensure a reliable supply of quality fruit.

“Limes are where mangos were 10 years ago,” says Cohen. “With limes, you can get three or four harvests a year, depending on where you are, but the quality depends on the water. With lemons, you have a little more control.”

In just three years, U.S. lemon and lime imports increased from less than 500,000 metric tons to nearly 700,000 as consumption soared by more than 30 percent while domestic production remained steady.

Mexico is the largest source of the imports, but Argentina and other South American sources are becoming significant.

“Argentina and Chile have an opportunity to fill the gap because the favorable ocean shipping rate gives them a competitive advantage with California,” says Cohen.

South America may emerge as a major source of all citrus for U.S. supermarkets.

“Chile can offer the entire citrus basket, prioritizes the U.S. market and can deliver to either coast,” says Zak Laffite, chief sales officer for Wonderful Citrus, Los Angeles. “South Africa, on the other hand, delivers primarily to the Northeast and cannot offer lemons because of U.S. phytosanitary requirements and restrictions. … To offer the full basket throughout the counter-seasonal window, a retailer will at least need to source from four countries.”

Global Storm Clouds

A combination of crop disease and bad weather has led to a temporary slump in global citrus production, especially of juice oranges.

“Global orange production for 2017/18 is forecast to tumble six million metric tons from the previous year to 47.8 million as unfavorable weather leads to smaller crops in Brazil and the United States,” according to Reed Blauer, U.S. Department of Agriculture commodity analyst for citrus, in his report, Citrus: World Markets and Trade. “U.S. production is estimated to fall 24 percent to 3.5 million tons as unfavorable weather and citrus greening disease continue to cause fruit to drop in Florida before it is ripe.”

This continues a 5-year slide that has seen Florida orange production, largely for juicing, plummet by more than 60 percent, while the California harvest has remained relatively stagnant.
The other major player in juice orange production has also had recent weather-related troubles.

“Brazil’s production is forecast to fall 23 percent to 16 million tons as unfavorable weather resulted in poor bloom and fruit set,” according to Blauer. “South Africa’s production is expected to rise 8 percent to 1.5 million tons. Exports are forecast at a record 1.2 million tons and account for 25 percent of global trade.”

Although the supply of Florida juice oranges is plagued by the greening disease, the state’s growers are still contributing to the fresh-market pipeline.

“We send grapefruit, Tangerines, and Navel, Valencia, early gold, and Hamlin oranges out of Florida,” says Jason Myers, office manager at DLF International, Vero Beach, FL.

Mandarin and Tangerine production worldwide appear to be relatively stable. And the global supply of lemons and limes should be a bit more robust this year.