With consumers now expecting quality citrus year-round, counter-seasonal sources help retailers provide consistent, enjoyable experiences.
Originally printed in the May 2022 issue of Produce Business.
Southern Hemisphere citrus provides consistent supply to support the increasing demand from U.S. consumers.
U.S. per capita consumption of fresh citrus reached 26.9 pounds in 2020, up 18% from 22.75 pounds in 2015, according to Karen Brux, managing director, North America, with the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association (CFFA) in Redwood City, CA.
“That’s really impressive, considering overall per capita consumption of fresh fruit actually decreased between 2015 and 2020,” Brux adds. “Southern Hemisphere produce enables consumers to enjoy the great taste and health benefits of citrus throughout the summer and into the fall.”
Southern Hemisphere citrus offers several benefits, according to Gabe Flores, director of produce at Bashas’ Family of Stores in Chandler, AZ, with 113 stores. “First and foremost, it’s a boost in off-season sales,” he says. “It also helps provide a complete, full variety in the produce department throughout the summer months.”
Citrus from Southern Hemisphere sources lets retailers provide customers a virtually uninterrupted full offering through the summer and early autumn when Northern Hemisphere citrus is no longer in season, explains Mark Greenberg, president and chief executive at Capespan North America in Saint-Laurent, Québec. “This is something the consuming public now expects and even takes for granted.”
Mark Cotê, regional produce supervisor at Redner’s Markets in Reading, PA, with 44 stores, picks up Southern Hemisphere where California leaves off. “Flavor and quality are just as good as domestic product,” he says. “We don’t miss a beat in offering the same items during summer as in the winter to satisfy our customers’ needs all year long.”
According to Greenberg, Southern Hemisphere citrus for the U.S. market comes principally from: South Africa (navel oranges, Midknight oranges, Cara Cara oranges, clementines, mandarins and Star Ruby grapefruit); Chile (navel oranges, Midknight oranges, Cara Cara oranges, clementines, mandarins and lemons); Peru (clementines, mandarins, Minneola oranges, grapefruit); Australia (navel oranges, mandarins); and Uruguay (clementines, mandarins, navel oranges).
South African growers from the Western and Northern Cape exported 88,000 tons to the U.S. in 2021, according to Justin Chadwick, chief executive of the Citrus Growers’ Association (CGA) of Southern Africa in Durban, South Africa.Retailers can capitalize on ever-expanding demand and the wide variety of citrus available.
“The industry could export an additional 75,000 tons of grapefruit and soft citrus within the next three years,” he says. “Southern African citrus growers produce a wide range of citrus varietals, including navels, Valencias, mandarins, lemons and grapefruit. Our citrus export season runs from April through to October, with the last batches arriving in foreign markets at the beginning of November.”
Rodrigo Lopez, category director of citrus and avocados for The Oppenheimer Group (Oppy) in Vancouver, British Columbia, says easy-peel oranges, which include satsumas, clementines, novas, nadorcotts, tangos and W. Murcotts, start arriving in May from Peru. “Then, we transition to South Africa, Australia, Uruguay and Chile,” he says. “Navels typically start the first week of July, mainly from South Africa and Chile, with lemons available through the summer from Argentina, Chile and Uruguay — all wrapping up by the end of October when the domestic season starts.”
According to the CFFA, Chile’s citrus volume (including clementines, mandarins, navels and lemons) increased from 333,382 tons in 2019 to 392,718 tons in 2021. “Navel orange volume is relatively flat, but there has been huge growth in the easy peeler category, with combined volume of clementines and mandarins growing from 143,168 tons in 2019 to 191,132 tons in 2021, an increase of 34%,” says Brux. “The vast majority of Chilean easy peelers (97%) are shipped to North America.”
Bill Weyland, vice president imports at Seven Seas in Iselin, NJ, expects to see good quality coming from all producing areas. “Argentina and Chile have struggled in some areas with water due to drought conditions,” he says, “but, we will have promotable volumes of good quality citrus from all growing areas.”
The market is generating a lot of excitement around Southern Hemisphere citrus, according to Lopez, and demand is expected to be high. “Global scale disruptions are affecting supply dynamics in varying regions,” he says. “But we expect the North American market to receive 10% to 25% greater volume than last year, accompanied by stronger demand, which we expect to accommodate that growth.”
Consumer trends support citrus category growth. “There has been a big focus on health and wellness and in consumers getting the vitamins and nutrients they need to support healthy immune systems,” says Sydney Allison, director of sales at IMG Citrus in Vero Beach, FL. “We continue to see an upward trend in consumers purchasing citrus.”
The category is always growing, agrees Redner’s Cotê. “Our biggest item is the navel orange. Everyone wants navels,” he says. “White grapefruit is also interesting — it’s not a big commodity, but we have customers looking for it year-round.”
Retailers can capitalize on the wide variety and expanding demand. “Southern Hemisphere citrus provides the retail trade in the U.S. the ability to have citrus varieties not harvested in North America in the months of June through October,” says Peter Anderson, commodity manager for Seald Sweet/Greenyard USA in Vero Beach, FL. “Navels and seedless Valencias, along with increasing numbers of soft citrus, are South Africa’s most popular commodities.”
Bashas’ continues to witness double-digit growth with extended varieties, specialty-type varieties such as Cara Cara, blood oranges and tangelos, according to Flores. “The product presents well, eats delicious and provides us with good health during the off-season time-frame,” he says.
Cara Cara oranges are on the upward trend, according to Allison, and more availability from Southern Hemisphere growers makes it a perfect new variety to bring into stores. “Peru has some excellent, sweet-tasting grapefruit with a short eight-week window before Florida and after California grapefruit,” she says.
Weyland suggests retailers look particularly at late season mandarins. “Murcotts, Tango and Nadorcott continue to be in good demand,” he says. “We also see good support in the market for Cara Cara oranges and Star Ruby grapefuit.”
CONVENIENCE AND SUSTAINABILITY
Options include not just variety, but packaging as well. “Retailers will need to carry both bag and bulk citrus products to appeal to all consumers, who are trying to maximize spending dollars,” says Weyland.
Bashas’ Flores explains bagged fruit continues to be a strong option with consumers. “It provides convenience, value and, with COVID-19, a safe option,” he says.
D-packs are a great packaging option because they provide opportunities for branding and messaging, states IMG’s Allison.
Seald Sweet Marketing Coordinator Helena Fernandez reports a special focus on sustainability with respect to packaging. “Our company has a sustainability roadmap for 2025, and one of the goals is to have 100% recyclable packaging by 2025,” she says. “This year, we are launching a new bag for our clementines that uses 75% less plastic in the film, by using kraft paper.”
EMPHASIZE THE CATEGORY
Citrus is a valuable item for stores to maximize. “According to studies, the citrus category is the largest after berries, so the category is very important,” says Fernandez. “What makes citrus so important is its diverse use for consumers. It is available year-round and demanded year-round. Including citrus with complementary products is a great idea. Citrus goes with almost everything, so consider them on displays and on promotions.”
Cotê explains Redners focuses on display and flavor. “It makes for impactful, attractive displays,” he says. “We build it high and let it fly. And the ultimate test is when shoppers put it in their mouth. If it tastes good, they’ll come back.”
On a recent trip to Montreal, CFFA’s Brux witnessed exactly how retailers should merchandise citrus throughout the year, whether Northern or Southern Hemisphere. “All the citrus categories came together to create a big, beautiful, eye-catching display,” she says. “This is what draws shoppers and motivates purchases.”
During the Southern Hemisphere season, retailers can also cross-merchandise to promote summer themes such as grilling and picnics, advises Brux. “Maybe a basket of lemons next to the fresh fish display, some salsa ingredients next to navel oranges, or a fresh lemonade stand,” she says. “CFFA has some great summer recipe images retailers can add to displays.”
As inflation cuts into U.S. consumer spending power, shoppers are more cautious with purchases. “Summer citrus sellers are going to have to manage that reality,” says Capespan’s Greenberg. “The most important thing suppliers can do to meet this challenge is to push for solid pricing, while at the same time acknowledging fruit needs to keep moving. If inventories build early in the season, sellers will be forced to play defensively all summer long.”
Throughout all supermarket departments, prices have been rising and that trend is expected to continue, agrees Weyland of Seven Seas. “Retailers will need to expand product offering to include both bulk product and a variety of bagged product with different price points, which will appeal to a large customer base,” he says.
Stores can look to suppliers for promotional help. “Normally, there is some promotional support available through the citrus associations of Chile and South Africa,” says Weyland. “Also, many importers provide advertising and marketing support throughout the summer months.”
Positioning product online for ecommerce on the retailer platform is also important, according to Fernandez. “Product positioning, keyword search, and product boost are key resources to promote citrus and increase demand,” she says.
CFFA ran a variety of digital ads during the 2021 season. “We have supported numerous retail chains in developing banner ads and other online tools to deliver the messages they feel best resonate with their customers,” says Brux.
CFFA also worked with the app Shopkick last year, and will continue its partnership in 2022. “This app rewards shoppers throughout the shopping journey, from online discovery to in-store purchases,” says Brux. “It has proven very effective in driving both awareness and purchase.”