Citrus Adds Zest (and Sales) to Produce Department

The sizzle of citrus — its fragrance, color and taste — contributes to sweet sales.

Citrus is a core category in produce departments and, with a variety of products available and flexibility in merchandising, retailers can develop presentations to generate more attention — and sales.

The range of merchandising possibilities is vast. In one example, 3 Guys from Brooklyn, Brooklyn, NY, which is located at an intersection, positions its citrus largely on colorful, outdoor sidewalk displays. The retailer also mixes packaged and bulk items, so consumers can readily see the full range of choices available.

Philip Penta, managing partner at 3 Guys from Brooklyn, says because the store merchandises its produce outside, color is important to catch the eyes of passersby. Citrus is a key, year-round category for 3 Guys, which serves a variety of demographic groups that make lemons and limes top sellers — and color contributors — throughout the seasons. By placing citrus high and intermingling it with other fruits, he gets the effect of a “patchwork of color.”

At Big Deal Foodtown, Bronx, NY, owner Miguel Garcia mixes citrus with other tropical fruits to encourage consumers to become comfortable with the full range of exotic and tropical fruits. So, items his shoppers look for, such as mandarins, work in tandem with other items, including mangos and avocados, to keep consumers shopping the entire fruit display, he says.

Mix citrus with other tropical fruits to encourage consumers to become comfortable with the full range of exotic and tropical fruits offered.

Retailers can approach citrus not just as a unitary category but as a consistent contributor in making produce departments more interesting, colorful and attention-getting.

“With consumers preferring to shop for produce, particularly oranges, in stores, retailers must deploy engaging, eye-catching displays and interactive point-of-sale materials to drive the category,” says Cassie Howard, senior director of category management and marketing at Sunkist Growers, Valencia, CA.


Howard says the Golden State is set for autumn. “November marks the return of California orange season, with specialty orange varieties, including Caras and Bloods, coming onto the scene around the holidays,” she says.

For Sunkist, Cara sales have increased in both dollars and volume this year versus last season, Howard adds, and in the 3-pound bag, the No. 1 selling pack size, “we have seen increases by almost 20% year-over-year, with the continued demand for Caras at retail over the past few seasons.”

“We all love variety, but what is far more important is offering products that are in season, at peak flavor, and also hold to established minimum quality standards.”

— Cassie Howard, Sunkist Growers, Valencia, CA

Howard says Sunkist has revamped its program offerings based on consumer trends and insights.

For example, Sunkist’s new all-pink packaging and matching merchandising for Caras will be making its debut this citrus season. “The new bag designs were tested among avid orange shoppers, with the consumers gravitating toward the pink bag and ‘The Pink Orange’ as a simple and straightforward identifier for the Cara category,” says Howard.

Nearly half of these respondents also indicated the new design elicits “fun and excitement,” and 58% said they would “definitely buy this product if available today in stores.”

Howard says the value of citrus is evident in its position at retail.

“According to Circana, citrus is an important part of the consumers’ shopping basket throughout the year, with citrus remaining top-of-mind, representing nearly 15% of total fruit dollars sold at retail across the U.S. throughout the year,” says Howard.

In terms of the season, Jordan Feek, director of marketing and data analytics for Feek Family Citrus, Fort Pierce, FL, formerly DLF International, says the company started packing Hamlins and early golds, with local weather conditions in citrus country favorable, having experienced a miss from any hurricanes.

Sizes are peaking on 100s, then 125s, she says, and the company will start packing grapefruit and navels soon as well.

“We are seeing better quality/quantity of fruit on the trees from last year. No hurricanes certainly helped,” Feek says. “Season start is slow, which is typical as customers finish with California. The strongest variety for us is actually our cold storage Valencias, which typically run to July.”


According to Circana OmniMarket Integrated Fresh, a Chicago-based market research firm, mandarins continue to be the big gainer in the citrus market. In the 52 weeks that ended Sept. 10 for multi-outlets across grocery, drug, mass market, military and select club and dollar retailers, overall citrus sales slipped 1.3% in dollar volume, but gained 0.7% in unit volume.

In the study, which included fresh mandarins, oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit, tangerines and tangelos, mandarins alone saw gains by both dollar and volume measurements, up 2.1% in dollars and 5.8% in volume.

Sales of conventional mandarins gained 1.4% in dollars and 5.3% in volume, but organic mandarins gained at a faster pace, up 36% in dollars and 44.9% in volume. Conventional tangerines advanced by 4.7% in dollars, but retreated 5.4% in volume, while organic fruit gained 36.3% in dollars and 22.4% in volume.

In the Sunshine State, Susie McKinley, director of the division of marketing and development at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), says growers are responding to the shifts.

In January 2023, a Fresh From Florida grapefruit sampling event in 40 U.K. stores led to a 350% sales lift during the in-store promotion.

“In addition to Florida oranges and grapefruit, growers across the state supply several types of specialty citrus including tangerines, tangelos, pummelos and Satsuma mandarins,” she says.

“Product development continues to focus on consumer demand for low-to-no seed varieties with an easy peel and sweet flavor profile,” McKinley says. “Growing regions continue to expand to North Florida, with increasing acreage, and interest, in cold hardy citrus varieties like Satsumas.”

Florida remains a key citrus supplier to markets in the U.S. and beyond. In the international sector, FDACS initiatives help boost the sale of citrus in Britain, with sampling at Sainsbury and grapefruit advertising for Waitrose. In doing so, the company underscored the value consumers place in Florida citrus.

John Lewis, a spokesperson for Waitrose, says, “We source our own-brand grapefruits from Florida, which we know is popular with our customers.”

April Flowers, marketing director, Lone Star Citrus Growers, Mission, TX, says prospects are good for grapefruit from the Lone Star State.

“Grapefruit is doing particularly well,” she says. “We conducted an annual survey that included well over 16,000 customers last year. When asked why they purchase grapefruit, 54% of all respondents were primarily motivated by its flavor, while 39% were motivated by the health benefits, signaling cross-marketing opportunities that highlight unique flavor combinations as well as emphasizing the extremely high vitamin C content in each serving.”

At Feek Family Citrus, Feek says although some things in citrus remain the same, food retailers are merchandising in line with developments in the sector.

“Our retail and wholesale customers stress quality as the most important factor,” says Feek. “We’re not seeing a change in demand for different varieties on our end.”


Taylor Ball, West Coast citrus manager at Dayka & Hackett LLC, Fresno, CA, says the rapid growth of mandarins has put them at the core of the citrus category. The rise of mandarins is partially a matter of convenience.

“Easy peelers are a perfect snack for kids and adults alike,” says Ball. “They are easy to eat, have minimal cleanup, and have excellent eating qualities.”

Where once main orange varieties were the dominant citrus fruit in the United States, the market has evolved. Zak Laffite, president of Wonderful Citrus, Los Angeles, CA, says now, 45% of citrus dollars come from mandarins, and oranges are somewhere in the 20s.

“The convenience is the big deal,” Laffite says. “I think it’s the simple fact that consumption is almost a function of uses, and the more uses you have, the more you’re going to consume. Mandarins are a traveling snack.”

For mandarins, Wonderful’s marketing outreach was, at first, focused on children and moms, building on the fruit’s role as a healthy snack and lunchbox item. Now, because purpose can drive sales, he says citrus items can benefit from recipes and serving suggestions.

That convenience has been a critical element in other citrus gains, too. A spokesperson for Frieda’s, Los Alamitos, CA, pointed to Popjoys Kumquats as a product that is designed as, at least in part, another alternative snack. Popjoys Kumquats, with an edible rind and a brand that provides the story behind the product, have qualities that can entice consumers.


The popularity of lemons and limes in Mexican, Caribbean and Asian cuisines helps boost the citrus category. Even grilling, as a food prep method, tends to incorporate lemons and limes as flavor enhancers. Then there is the popularity of cocktails and mocktails that call for using lemons and limes as part of the mix or at least as a garnish.

Sunkist’s Howard says summer includes lots of citrus sales opportunities. Lemons, she says, take off as the weather warms.

“While lemons are available year-round, summer is the peak season for lemon purchases, with more households buying lemons than any other time during the year,” she says, citing Circana data that shows from April through June, 5-pound lemon bags increased by over 5% compared to last season, and 20% compared to two seasons ago.

As lemons become more popular, food retailers should consider how they can drive more sales from the category in peak season and even beyond.

Lemons are often planned purchases, so retailers should provide flexible packaging options to help meet consumers’ needs, says Howard. “That’s why we are committed to offering our retail partners innovative programs and shopper-marketing solutions that are both versatile and easy to implement.”

It is important to offer citrus varieties that are in season and at peak flavor. Retailers should deploy engaging, eye-catching displays and interactive point-of-sale materials to drive the category.

Although produce departments transition to a heavier presentation of citrus in the fall and winter, produce retailers can help maintain interest in the category by making conspicuous seasonal changes to the presentation all year.

“We all love variety, but what is far more important is offering products that are in season, at peak flavor, and also hold to established minimum quality standards,” says Howard. “Focusing on consumer education that helps customers to spend their dollar on products they will enjoy can help move repeat purchases.

“We’ve all purchased beautiful-looking fruit that just doesn’t taste great because it wasn’t a favorable time for the crop. It’s disappointing and can turn the consumer away from an entire category. In short, variety is a good thing — as long as the offerings are in season and flavorful.”

Dayka & Hackett’s Ball also emphasizes summertime opportunities. “Summertime is an excellent time to sell citrus,” he says. “Summer domestic varieties, such as grapefruit and Valencia oranges and a full slate of citrus fruits coming from the Southern Hemisphere, provide a full selection of products to promote.”


With health and wellness a greater concern to consumers today, touting the nutritional qualities of citrus beyond vitamin C can be a way to boost customer interest in the category.

“Citrus has plenty of nutritional value beyond its high vitamin C content,” says Ball. “Other essential nutrients, such as potassium and calcium, make citrus fruits part of a balanced diet.”

The advantage of getting the whole story out to consumers is in prompting consideration of how broadly citrus can address their nutritional goals.

“While shoppers seem to be keen on the immune-boosting benefits of citrus, many of Sunkist’s beloved in-season citrus varietals offer unique nutritional benefits unknown to the average consumer,” says Howard. “Retailers should take advantage of Sunkist’s nutrition education program to learn more about the best tools and merchandising techniques to present each citrus in the best light to meet their store goals.”

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Don’t Ignore Organic Citrus Consumers

Organic citrus consumers are out there and actively looking for fruit that will satisfy their standards. According to Circana, total U.S. organic citrus dollar sales are up 3% this season, however, flat vs. two years ago. The figures quoted in this case are for the 52 weeks that ended June 18. 

“The organic category is expected to remain competitive,” says Cassie Howard, senior director of category management and marketing at Sunkist Growers, Valencia, CA, “especially knowing that one in four consumers always purchase organic citrus when given the choice, and with the continued interest around food origin and traceability, as shoppers continue to seek education on where their food comes from and is grown before making a purchase.”

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Recipes Can Promote Citrus

Recipes can be an important part of promoting citrus, both core products and less familiar ones.

A citrus advantage is that they can infuse recipes with flavor and nutritional advantages simultaneously.

“With so much to offer in flavor profiles and nutritional value across the many citrus varieties, a more aggressive approach to education and marketing would definitely create more excitement for the category,” says Taylor Ball, West Coast citrus manager at Dayka & Hackett LLC, Fresno, CA.

Recipes can provide citrus with a broad boost.

“According to a recent Sunkist-commissioned study, when asked what advertisements incentivize consumers to buy citrus, over 50% prioritized recipe inspiration, followed by utilization tips at 30%,” says Cassie Howard, senior director of category management and marketing, Sunkist Growers, Valencia, CA.

Facebook, recipe websites, and blogs were the main channels inspiring shopping lists among almost half of respondents in the Sunkist study.

“At Sunkist, our big and bold display bins are available for every variety and feature scannable QR codes driving directly to the recipe portal on to provide real-time recipe inspiration to drive consumption,” Howard says.

“Our new header cards are also great tools to provide key varietal flavor information, nutritional benefits, as well as trending recipes, and can be interchangeable throughout the entire citrus season or key holidays and milestones.”

Howard adds that not making the most of social media can be an opportunity lost.

“We want citrus fans to continue finding new and exciting ways to incorporate citrus into everyday life, and we continue to expand our digital shopper marketing programs and social media campaigns to provide consumers with easy-to-make citrus-infused concoctions,” she says.

“Collaborating with food and lifestyle influencers across Facebook, Instagram and TikTok is a great way to interact with younger consumers looking for recipe inspiration online and capitalize on trending moments by presenting ways citrus can brighten up the home through dishes, drinks, and even DIY décor,” she says.

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Fresh From Florida Promoted Internationally

In fiscal year 2022-2023, more than 5,900 stores in the United States, Canada, France, Sweden, South Korea and the United Kingdom promoted Florida citrus with Fresh From Florida.

Promotions included circular ads, shelf talkers, digital billboards, sampling events, recipe cards, in-store videos and social media campaigns. Fresh From Florida customizes promotions to meet retailer needs and respond to consumer preferences, says Susie McKinley, director of the division of marketing and development, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

“In January 2023, a Florida grapefruit sampling event in 40 U.K. stores led to a 350% sales lift during the promotion,” says McKinley. “The in-store tasting also led more new customers to purchase grapefruit than before.”

In South Korea, social media influencers created short-form video content highlighting Fresh From Florida grapefruit, which resulted in more than 8 million views, McKinley adds.