Second half of citrus import season sees much improvement from first half

From Fresh Plaza | 14 September 2023

Overview of citrus in the U.S. market, complemented by charts from Agronometrics. Original published on September 14, 2023. 

“We are reaching the end of the summer citrus import season,” says Miles Fraser-Jones with Sierra Produce. He is referring to imports from South Africa, Peru, and Chile. The last arrivals will be late-season mandarins and Midknight oranges from South Africa, expected to arrive through the end of October. Chile’s season is estimated to end in about four weeks. “The country has been experiencing rain, which will likely push the season for mandarins and oranges/Midknights a bit longer,” Fraser-Jones commented. The Peruvian citrus season will finish with mandarins in about two weeks, around week 38/39.

Disappointing eating quality

While the import season is looking to finish on a high note, the first part was a bit of a struggle. “First of all, we expected California to be out of the market by the end of May. For that reason, the early varieties from Peru anticipated to enter a strong US market. However, some California growers managed to go through the end of June, which resulted in a much softer market for early Peruvian varieties than expected,” Fraser-Jones commented. On top of that, the early import varieties were just okay. “The eating quality wasn’t great, which really hurt the consumer pull. We came out of a great late California season and went from high-quality fruit to substandard fruit.” Consumers were disappointed with the quality, which resulted in a loss of sales. “This struggle continued until the end of July, early August.”

It took a bit of time for this situation to turn around. June was okay, July was not great, and competition against domestic summer fruits started. Blueberries, strawberries, melons, grapes, and stone fruit were all in season and consumers had an abundance of options to choose from. However, the import situation improved significantly in August when W. Murcotts from Peru and Chile entered the market, as well as Nadorcotts from South Africa and Tango mandarins from Peru and South Africa. “With the arrival of good eating quality fruit, we saw a change in demand.”

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Source: USDA Market News via Agronometrics.
(Agronometrics users can view this chart with live updates here)

Consistent supplies despite challenges

The expectation is for a good import market through October and into the first half of November. “First of all, the weather is starting to turn, and domestic fruits are gradually drying up, which means less competition for citrus,” shared Fraser-Jones. Secondly, California’s citrus season will see a late start, which should result in a smooth transition from imports to domestic fruit. In general, Fraser-Jones looks back on a season that was challenged by lower demand and climate issues. “Imported fruits are just expensive and the economy has played an effect this season. Due to high retail prices, overall demand for import citrus was down.” In addition, South Africa was impacted by terrible rains as well as load shedding, Peru is dealing with El Niño, and Chile also saw rain during the season. “It’s impressive to see how all three countries have managed their problems well and have consistently been able to supply the market.”

Fraser-Jones will be attending Fruit Attraction in Madrid from October 3 -5. He is looking forward to discussing Sierra’s upcoming programs. These include grapes from Peru and South Africa, citrus from Morocco, kiwi fruit from Italy and Greece, blueberries from Peru and South Africa, as well as stone fruit from South Africa.

The News in Charts is a collection of stories from the industry complemented by charts from Agronometrics to help better tell their story.

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