Summer Citrus Bursts With Demand

ClementinesPhotos Courtesy of Chilean Fresh Fruit Association

Producers from South Africa, Chile and Uruguay share how they prepare for consumer frenzy in the United States.

Thanks to the availability of imported citrus, Americans can enjoy their favorite fruits year-round. The challenge for retailers is to remain current on citrus trends — knowing which varieties sell the most and what imports score highest with consumers — and focusing on merchandising and marketing them effectively.

Consumers’ love affair with citrus continues to heat up. As the New York Times recently reported, “Thanks to new offerings and deft marketing, Mandarins — popularly known as Tangerines — have become a fixture in the American fruit bowl. The country’s consumption of Mandarins has doubled, to 5 pounds a year for every American, while orange sales have declined.”

The task for retailers is bringing the best citrus products the world offers to store shelves, and then presenting them to consumers with ideas on how to best enjoy them.

South Africa‭: ‬Growing Volumes

Mandarin Tree

Photo Courtesy of Chilean Fresh Fruit Association

Suhanra Conradie, chief executive of Summer Citrus from South Africa in Citrusdal, South Africa, says her group works closely with its importer partners, and different importers promote in different ways. “Capespan NA, Seald Sweet, DNE Worldwide and AMC Direct are the four importers actively involved in our promotional efforts. We do plan to establish a unique South African brand identity in collaboration with these importers.”

Summer Citrus from South Africa (SCSA) represents a group of 230 South African citrus growers who consolidate their logistics, marketing and sales efforts to bring the finest citrus fruit to market during the U.S. summer season. Established in 1999 and rebranded for expanded marketing efforts in 2016, the group provides Navels, Midknights, Easy Peelers, Star Ruby grapefruit and Cara Cara oranges across the globe.

One of the group’s major goals is increased shelf-space and consumption of product. Conradie notes, “Although we have direct outreach to some of the bigger retailers, once again our importer partners form an imperative part of the success of this program and helping us execute strategy.”

Representatives from across the U.S. and Western Cape of South Africa recently attended the 2016 U.S. annual planning meeting hosted by SCSA, formerly the Western Cape Citrus Producers Forum (WCCPF).

SCSA grower Gerrit Van Der Merwe confirmed that crop has increased from 2015, and the expectation is that all citrus will continue to increase over the next five years. Navels will continue to lead in volume, accounting for 60 percent of the group’s citrus, while Midknights account for 20 percent, followed by Easy Peelers at 14 percent, and Star Ruby Grapefruit and Cara-Cara at 3 percent.

Summer citrus is proven to be a well established, growing category, says Conradie. “We would like to position ourselves as the preferred supplier of summer citrus. The great attribute of summer citrus (oranges, Easy Peelers, and Star Ruby) is that the fruit fits well into the portable snacking trend, and for households on a budget they are a good value on a cost-per-pound basis,” she says.

Conradie and her colleagues are continuing to see volumes grow during the summer months. “Easy Peelers continue to enjoy the largest growth. Summer Citrus from South Africa is very competitively priced compared to other summer offerings. We are seeing growth in all of our citrus varieties,” she says.

The Oppenheimer Group in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, is bringing Navels from Katlego Sitrus in South Africa to market. The high quality, highly sweet and juicy orange became available in mid-June. The company is also shipping Orri mandarins from Israel in 12-kg cartons(roughly 26-pound cartons) — under the British brand, Jaffa — to North American retailers and wholesalers.

As the company notes, “Due to the great success of our Orri trial last season, we increased our volumes of this easy-peeling Mandarin from Israel.”

Australian growers are expected to harvest more than 100,000 tons of Mandarins throughout the 2016 season. Citrus Australia’s chief executive, Judith Damiani, says growers are on track toOranges and Lemons deliver a full supply of fruit due to favorable growing conditions. The Aussie Mandarin season runs from April through to October with more than 10 varieties available.

“The demand in Australia and around the world for easy-peel, sweet, seedless Mandarins continues to rise and Australian growers are responding with increased production and new varieties,” says Damiani.

Growers are trumpeting their fruits’ health benefits to consumers, noting that Mandarins “deliver a boost during the colder months from the many vitamins and antioxidants found in them. A single large Mandarin provides adults with their daily intake of vitamin C. They are also easy to peel and, best of all, delicious to eat anytime of the day.

“Free from cholesterol, sodium and fat, low in calories and high in fiber, Mandarins really are the perfect natural healthy snack, particularly for kid’s lunch boxes,” notes Damiani.

Indeed, education has been a major initiative in Australia. In November, a two-year, nationally accredited citrus-specific Diploma of Production Horticulture was developed to be offered by Sunraysia Institute of TAFE. The goal is to support the next generation of orchard managers to drive the industry forward. The pilot citrus-specific diploma program was rolled out by SuniTAFE, Mildura campus in February 2016, with a longer term goal of delivering the qualification nationally.

According to Citrus Australia’s market development manager Andrew Harty, the Australian citrus industry “is entering an exciting growth phase, with massive new marketing opportunities to supply Asian export markets. Free trade agreements, favorable currency exchange, and huge demand for ‘clean & green’ Australian fruit are all helping to drive citrus expansion.

But at the same time, we need to lift our game to ensure we are supplying only the best quality product as efficiently as possible, and to achieve that, our supply chain will need managers with greater knowledge, skills and technical expertise than ever before.”

Chile‭: ‬Dominant Player

Citrus Store DisplayKaren Brux, managing director North America, Chilean Fresh Fruit Association (CFFA), says 2015 was a great year for the Chilean citrus industry, and the category’s strength should carry through this summer.

Exports to North America reached record levels, with 165,000 tons (roughly 81 percent of all exports) shipped here. “We’re certainly not the only Southern Hemisphere country sending citrus to this market, but Chile is the dominant player in the U.S., and this is where the Chilean Citrus Committee focuses its marketing efforts.”

Through the end of the Chilean citrus season in October, Chile had 52 percent Navel market share in the U.S., with South Africa the main competitor. Chile doesn’t have as long of a history in this market as South Africa, but more retailers are coming onboard with Chilean Navels every year.

The country is noted for consistently high quality fruit and stellar merchandisers who work hand in hand with retailers to develop highly effective, customized retail marketing programs.

In addition, of all the lemons entering the U.S. from the Southern Hemisphere, Chile had an approximately 95 percent market share last year, shipping nearly 34,000 tons. Chile also exceeded a 55 percent market share last year on Easy Peelers. While there is growing competition from Peru and Uruguay, both are still relatively small compared to Chile. (Peru had 25 percent market share in 2015, Uruguay 11 percent.)

The U.S. is by far the key export market for Chile, and Easy Peeler volume from Chile should continue to see double-digit growth.

Last year, CFFA estimated that combined Clementine and Mandarin volume would reach 100,000 tons over the next few years, and said the estimate for 2016 is already quite close to that number. The Citrus Committee’s official 2016 estimate for Easy Peelers exceeds 96,000 tons.

“Thanks to the strong marketing campaigns for Easy Peelers during the U.S. domestic season, and the work Chile has done to maintain shelf space and consumer demand during the summer and fall, this category continues to soar,” says Brux. “Easy Peelers have become a key year-round, must-have item in the produce department.”

Total global citrus exports from Chile climbed 30 percent in 2015, with the largest increase of 57 percent attributed to Mandarins.

For this season, the group is projecting another 39 percent increase in Mandarins, 99 percent of which are shipped to North America.

“With strong year-round demand for Mandarins, and with Chile the main source of supply during the summer and fall months, we look forward to supplying the market with more of what it wants,” says Brux.

Uruguay‭: ‬Very Enthusiastic

Uruguay is a newcomer in the summer citrus in the United States market. Marta Bentancur, manager of international relations and market access affairs for The Union of Fruit Growers and Exporters of Uruguay (UPEFRUY), says she and her colleagues are “very enthusiastic in this respect. Summer citrus supply is a good complement to promote consumption all year-round in a growing market for this category.”

Uruguay’s importers are also eager to increase participation, she adds, and are working hard to improve quality and their business relationship. “Our quality is very good, and competes very well with fruit from other origins, such as Chile, Peru and South Africa.”

Bentancur says her members are focusing their exports in Mandarins and oranges. “This year, we are introducing more lemons, but figures will be quite low.”

She concedes there is a noticeable dip in some varieties during the summer months. “Supply and consumption are still very low in summer compared to winter months with domestic supply. Additionally, in summer, there is competition with other fruits. Nevertheless, citrus’ aptitude for health is important to be able to increase the market in this window.”

Bentancur’s group found consumers prefer seedless, tasty and colorful fruits, “and that is our target. We are working on conversion to new seedless varieties to be able to fulfill consumers’ expectations for the medium and long run.”

Fulfilling consumers’ expectations is what counts. By bringing the finest fruit from growers the world over to American store shelves, marketing its health benefits, highlighting its menu appeal and merchandising and promoting it effectively, retailers can do just that.

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