The California organic citrus season is in full swing with plenty of promotional opportunities for the next couple of months. Organic oranges, lemons, grapefruit and specialty citrus varieties are all in good supplies with reasonable f.o.b. prices, often lower than usual.
Craig Morris, category director for citrus for Homegrown Organic Farms, California’s largest grower-shipper in the organic citrus category, said promotional pricing opportunities are the result of both good supplies and inexperienced organic marketers. Regarding supplies, he said that overall volumes are similar to last year, yet shipments are down 10-15 percent. This means that over the next couple of months, most grower-shippers need to move more fruit, which is a recipe for good promotions.
Craig Morris, Citrus Category Director, Homegrown Organic Farms
“One of the major reasons for this is that there are more marketers handling organics, and they either don’t know what they are doing, or they are trying to buy market share with lower prices,” he said.
Morris noted that growing organic citrus is a difficult challenge and so it must be sold at a premium price. While he says there has been a small increase in citrus volume, it has not risen to the level of supply exceeding demand. He believes the demand is there; this year the organic fruit has not been marketed properly.
Looking forward, Morris said there will be good volumes of organic navel oranges into mid-May at which point the Valencia crop will take over. He said organic grapefruit volume will last into June while Homegrown, and others, will have organic lemons through the summer. Except for mandarins, he said there is a good array of organic specialty citrus, including blood oranges and Cara Cara, presently.
Homegrown Organic Farms organic navel oranges
“There is a great opportunity for retailers to promote organic citrus well into May,” he said. “In fact, I expect sales to be driven by promotions in the next couple of months.”
Morris said much of Homegrown’s organic citrus is bagged as bags in the citrus category are very attractive to retailers and consumers. They appeal to consumers as a grab and go item, and retailers like them to maintain the integrity of the organic ring at the checkout stand.
Christina Ward, Director of Global Brand Marketing, Sunkist Growers, Inc.
Christina Ward, director of global brand marketing for Sunkist Growers, Inc., also gave a report of that co-op’s broad portfolio of organic offerings for the upcoming quarter. “Paired with a strong supply of conventional citrus, Sunkist is able to supply our customers’ entire citrus program,” she said. “Sunkist organic navel oranges, Cara Cara oranges, and Blood oranges are available now through late May, and Sunkist organic lemons are available year round. Sunkist organic Valencia oranges will come online in early June.”
Randy Skidgel, Farmer for Sunkist Growers, Inc.
Ward said demand for organic citrus has been very good this seasdon and there was a spike in sales coinciding with consumers filling up their pantries and refrigerators as fears of the coronavirus first surfaced.
As organic citrus volume starts to decline in May, there will be other California organic fruits rising to the forefront. Stephen Paul, stone fruit and blueberry category director for Homegrown Organic Farms, said the state’s organic blueberries are about to pop with good supplies from April to the Fourth of July. He revealed that the Arvin district in the southern San Joaquin Valley is expected to start harvesting next week (the first full week of April).
Stephen Paul, Category Director, Homegrown Organic Farms
“Volume will gradually grow and by the end of weeks 18 and 19 (May 10), there will be good supplies and the opportunity for a lot of great ads,” Paul said.
As it gets warmer, production will continue to move north to new districts, continually refreshing supplies. “The berries look fabulous and as long as we don’t get bad weather, we should have a good season,” he said, noting that the winter chill hours and bloom were very good this year.
Speaking about the new normal, which is marketing fruit during a pandemic, Paul said the organic blueberries are sold in clamshells, making them popular for consumers. In recent weeks, as the fears about Covid-19 have risen, consumers appear to be gravitating toward packaged produce as it offers a level of protection against in-store contamination that bulk fruit does not have.
Homegrown Organic Farms organic blueberries
Paul offered an optimistic view of organic fruit sales moving into spring and summer. “There will be a lot of opportunity to promote blueberries and other fruit and I believe that especially when the stimulus dollars get moving, people are going to be looking for healthy foods and we offer that. It is known that sugary products can adversely affect the immune system. I think we will feel a bump in sales,” he said.