Consumer expectations for year-round fruit combined with increasing variety and volume mean surging citrus sales for retailers.
As retailers begin looking to summer offerings, citrus from South Africa plays a crucial role in building summer sales. “Summer citrus is now well established as a category on retail shelves and in the minds of consumers,” says Marc Solomon, senior vice president at Capespan North America in Gloucester City, NJ.
University Foods, an upscale independent grocer in Detroit, sees booming business with citrus in the summer. “Our customers have come to expect citrus all year long,” reports Sam Marrogy, produce manager. “Summer is a great time to promote, because the weather is good and product is amply available.”
Intersecting benefits in availability, quality and price helps build the category. “South African fruit is great quality,” explains Richard Stiles, director of produce and floral for Redner’s Markets in Reading, PA, with 44 stores. “Availability keeps getting better and costs continue to come down.”
Kim Flores, marketing director for Seald Sweet in Vero Beach, FL, expects nothing less from this coming season. “South African citrus has established itself with consistently high quality, great flavor, and volume to promote aggressively. We’re excited to report this season is shaping up to have these same attributes,” she says. According to the Western Cape Citrus Producers Forum (WCCPF), South African offerings represent a significant part of summer citrus category growth and continue to climb. “Volumes from South Africa have increased by 25 percent from 2010 to 2015 with 2015 being the record year in terms of volume,” reports Suhanra Conradie, chief executive of the WCCPF in Citrusdal, South Africa.
Redner’s, like most retailers, counts on South African summer product to contribute to a year-round citrus program. “There isn’t much citrus available from other sources in summer so we need the South African product to maintain citrus sales,” says Stiles.
The timeframe is opportune since it is contra-seasonal to citrus from California, Florida and Texas, says Tom Cowan, sales manager for the South African program at DNE World Fruit LLC in Fort Pierce, FL. “The window starts when California Navels finish in late May or early June and closes when the new California Navel season starts in late October or early November,” explains Cowan. “Retailers can now merchandise and grow their citrus profits year-round due to the wide variety of imported citrus.”
Maximize Space With Variety
Retailers can continue expanding citrus sales in the summer with the ample variety available from South Africa. “You must have a full assortment for the customers,” says Stiles. “We carry Clementines, Cara Caras, Navels, grapefruits, Blood oranges, whatever is available. It just enhances the whole category and gives customers options.”
According to the WCCPF, South Africa citrus offerings are available from June through September and with limited items in October. Items include Easy Peelers, Navels, Star Ruby grapefruit, and Cara Cara oranges and Midknights in October, says Conradie.
The season essentially starts with Easy Peelers in late May through August, says Bill Weyland, vice president of sales for Seven Seas in Iselin, NJ, which is part of the Tom Lange Family of Companies and represents a global list of growers to supply international retailers and restauarants.
“We feature a different citrus item every week, switching it up to keep customers interested.
— Richard Stiles, Redner’s Market
Navels, Cara Caras and Midknights fill the gap from June through September with some potential alteration in any given season. Seven Seas markets Cara Cara oranges from late June to September and W. Murcotts from late August to October. “Seald Sweet starts Navels and Midknight oranges in early July through the second week of October,” reports Stu Monaghan, sales director for Seald Sweet. “We will also have Minneola Tangelos this year in August.”
Importers suggest availability of additional summer citrus products such as grapefruit also helps build sales. “Star Ruby grapefruit is available from July to September,” says Weyland.
Redner’s reports a resurgence of interest in grapefruit. “This is a good product for us,” describes Stiles. “It’s regaining popularity with Millennials as they continue to look for healthy products.”
Marketers claim this year’s crop is expected to be excellent in quality and quantity, allowing for abundant promotion opportunity. “Climatic conditions have been such that we are expecting very good internal quality along with very clean fruit,” explains Capespan’s Solomon. “The season is expected to start at the normal time with weekly arrivals of vessels on the U.S. East Coast ensuring the fruit always remains fresh.”
Ample volumes permit big promotion and big sales opportunities. Marrogy reports University Foods usually buys big volume in summer. “We’ll bring in a bin of oranges and promote in quantity,” he explains. “Large quantities of quality product draws customer attention and sells.”
Visible displays are crucial to Redner’s strategy. “This is an impulse item so you must have a nice display,” advises Stiles. “We feature a different citrus item every week, switching it up to keep customers interested.”
Summer citrus fights for both shelf and ad space. “It is important to give us shelf space,” emphasizes Weyland. “Most produce sales are still impulse buys. Retailers can help support the category with line ads throughout the summer and increase floor space and ad frequency starting in late August with back-to-school promotions.”
Sell Bulk and Bagged
Marketers recommend frequently promoting citrus in large displays with a variety of package options. “Including both bagged and bulk citrus helps attract consumers and ultimately drives sales,” says Seald Sweet’s Flores. “Bagging programs have grown tremendously over the years. We offer bags in a number of sizes, all based on our customers’ needs.”
Capespan helps retailers maximize sales by offering bulk and bagged in a range of varieties. “Navels, Cara Caras and Midknights are available in both bulk and bags,” explains Solomon. “Clementines are also traditionally sold in bags with attractive eye catching graphics.”
Increasing interest in healthy eating and juicing motivates University Foods customers to purchase large amounts of citrus. “Our customers buy large quantities to juice,” explains Marrogy. “So we promote these items in large quantities. I make sure I have enough good quality, fresh citrus at the right price to drive these sales.”
Price and Promote to Sell
University Foods operates on ensuring fresh product and pricing it to sell. “I make sure it’s fresh product first and foremost,” reports Marrogy. “Then, I look at the price. I try to put a competitive price on it to do the best for our customers. Lower prices for summer product always moves. For example, we ran imported Navel oranges at 5 for $5 and they did really well.” Stores are urged to make summer citrus promotions a focal point. “The quality is good, the flavor is good, the volume is good and pricing is good,” explains Stiles. “Summer’s not just all about stone fruit anymore; these items give you good opportunity to increase or add on sales. It is just something else the shopper will pick up. It doesn’t affect the sales of the other summer fruit so promote it often and aggressively.”
The attractiveness and taste of summer citrus provides a perfect platform for reaching consumers directly. “Retailers who promote citrus during peak taste, advertise weekly, build colorful displays with an assortment of colors, and offer in-store sampling during peak flavor, have successful programs and grow their summer citrus sales,” says Mark Hanks, vice president of sales and marketing for DNE.
The portability of summer citrus is another successful promotional focus. “It allows consumers to enjoy great summer outdoor activities with citrus in their picnic baskets, backpacks, and coolers,” says Hanks. “In late summer/fall, citrus is very effectively promoted in back-to-school lunch box programs.” Giving customers a taste also boosts sales. “In-store sampling is a great merchandising method to attract consumers and give them a positive experience,” suggests Weyland of Seven Seas. Hanks agrees enticing customers to sample before purchasing helps boost sales, especially for thrifty customers. “Many customers are on a tight budget and reluctant to buy something new unless they know they are going to like the product,” he says.
Look for Support
Stores can partner with suppliers for promotional support. Seald Sweet supports retailers when sampling or display contests coincide with promotions. “Our goal is to help grow our retailers’ sales with promotion support and provide them consistently beautiful product for their consumers to enjoy,” says Monaghan.
DNE encourages retailers to work with suppliers offering good quality fruit, steady supplies and good information regarding supply trends and pricing. “DNE offers a complete program of promotional support for retailers with many options for advertising, in-store sampling and merchandising displays,” says Cowan.
The WCCPF is working on a new brand direction for South Africa’s fruit. “We are developing a program that will be attractive and focus on the consumer,” says Conradie. “We are excited to see the results and hope to launch this new focus near the beginning of the season.”
Retailers can also harness existing consumer-oriented social programs for an added layer of support. For example, some of Seald Sweet’s growers in South Africa are Fair Trade accredited. “These programs enable the farm workers to receive benefits from the programs, through the form of fair wages, community improvements, education and social services so the business is more sustainable,” says Flores.
Making the Trip
Originating from the other side of the world, South African fruit is no short order yet delivers on quality and taste.
By Jodean Robbins
South Africa is about 8,900 miles from the United States. Exporters of South African fruit have invested decades of research and experience to assure quality fruit arrives to U.S. consumers. “South African citrus travels very well and consistently arrives in beautiful condition,” says Stu Monaghan, sales director for Seald Sweet in Vero Beach, FL. “Our growers and packers take great care to ensure the fruit purchased by American consumers is a very positive eating experience.”
Transportation is crucial to making sure South African citrus arrives in peak condition. “South Africa uses both charter vessels and container vessels to ship their citrus to the U.S. market,” explains Tom Cowan, sales manager for the South African program for DNE World Fruit LLC in Fort Pierce, FL. “The U.S. Department of Agriculture requires South African citrus to undergo 22 days of continuous cold treatment. The South African vessels all have a very sophisticated temperature monitoring system setup to make sure the fruit is maintained at the proper temperature during the voyage to the U.S.”
Citrus actually does well in the transportation leg, according to Marc Solomon, senior vice president at Capespan North America in Gloucester City, NJ. “The sea voyage is 22 days,” he says. “Since the fruit is kept refrigerated at all times, the fruit has excellent taste and shelf life when the consumer purchases it.”
The main U.S. ports receiving South African fruit are in the Northeast. “Charter vessel fruit arrives mainly in Gloucester City, NJ, and container vessels go to Newark or New York,” reports DNE’s Cowan.
Importers, such as Capespan, have begun receiving fruit into the port of Houston. “This means better access to the Midwest and Southwest regions of the U.S.,” says Solomon.