OPN Connect Newsletter 359 · February 22, 2024

Organic Citrus Offering Promo Opportunities

The California organic citrus season is in peak volume with many different varieties and promotional opportunities available for retailers.

“This is a good time for organic citrus,” said Bianca Kaprielian, owner and CEO of Fruit World Company in Reedley, California. “There is an abundance of it right now.”

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Bianca Kaprielian, Owner and CEO, Fruit World Company

Kaprielian did note that though persistent rain in California over the last month or so has kept the harvest crews out of the fields periodically in 2024, the fruit is there waiting to be picked, promoted, and sold. “We are continually having to wait for the fields to dry out but those are the normal challenges we face at this time of year,” she said, adding that there has been no measurable damage to the trees nor the fruit from the series of atmospheric rivers that have drenched the Golden State.

Going down the list of organic citrus Fruit World is featuring, Kaprielian said mandarins, lemons, and navels offer the best promotional options.

Vitalis April 2024

“The mandarin crop is lighter than in a typical year, but sales have slowed down in Q1, which has allowed the season to get drawn out,” she said. “We definitely have more promotable volume than I thought we’d have by now when the season started [in the fall].”

Kaprielian reasoned that food inflation at the grocery store has created a softer market across the board for organic citrus, which is typically higher priced than other organic fruit options. But she reiterated that there are promotional opportunities available nonetheless. Fruit World will have an excellent supply of organic mandarins through mid-April. 

She noted that the organic lemon crop may well be the best promotional option for retailers currently as the crop is picking at one size larger than last year, with 95-size fruit in peak supply. Fruit World offers organic lemons on a year-round basis, and Kaprielian noted that the current supply/size situation is as good as it gets.

Navels and Cara Cara oranges are two more opportunities for promotion. “We are seeing a high percentage of choice grade fruit, which means that is the best opportunity for aggressive pricing," she said.

Fruit World also has a good supply of organic blood oranges until mid-March, and its Minneola crop has finished up in the desert, so harvest has moved to the San Joaquin Valley with good supplies on the immediate horizon. 

“We are seeing a high percentage of choice grade [navel and Cara Cara oranges], which means that is the best opportunity for aggressive pricing.” - Bianca Kaprielian

Looking down the road a bit, Kaprielian expects the Valencia orange crop to have better yields per acre, but she believes there are fewer acres this year as some growers have transitioned to higher-value crops in recent years and pulled some of their Valencia trees.

Homegrown Organic Farms April 2024

Craig Morris, citrus category manager for Porterville, California-based Homegrown Organic Farms, was very enthusiastic about the organic citrus available for retailers as spring approaches. “It doesn’t get any better than it is now,” he said. “From now [February 21] to mid-to-late April, we have peak-of-the-season volume and promotable supplies across the board.”

Craig Morris, Citrus & Grape Category Director, Homegrown Organic Farms

Morris said the rains that have hit California over the past six weeks have been much more advantageous than last year’s continuous onslaught during the same time frame. “We are seeing storms every five to seven days, which gives us plenty of time to plan accordingly, and we haven’t missed a beat.”

In addition, he said the extra rain is creating greater than average growth in the fruit, with most varieties sizing larger this year.

As a case in point, he said organic navel oranges are peaking on 48s and offering great promotional opportunities, with volume expected to last well into May. “We are also in the middle of our heirloom navel program. This is limited to trees from the old Washington variety line that are 50 years old or older. There are great opportunities in 3-pound bags,” he said.

Organic blood oranges are expected to be available until early April. Morris said the blood orange is a crop with a unique flavor that sees its popularity ebb and flow, often based on internet chatter that goes viral. “This year we have seen a bump in demand, and we have the fruit to match it.”

Creekside Organics April 2024

Morris described the Cara Cara orange as a variety that is excellent for consumers who are looking for a sweet piece of fruit without the acidic taste often associated with citrus. “We will have Cara Caras well into April. They are peaking on a larger size this year in the 48–52–56 range. It has a high-sugar, low-acid flavor.”

Mandarins are also in the middle of their season, with promotional volume expected through mid-April, according to Morris. “This year our mandarins have great eating characteristics.”

Rounding out Homegrown’s lineup are organic lemons, grapefruit, and pummelos. “Lemons are sizing very well this year, with the size curve peaking on the most desirable sizes of 95s and 115s,” he said.

Morris noted that the company’s organic grapefruit is one item bucking the size trend. “It’s a smaller crop this year, so we would have expected larger sizing, but the size structure is smaller than usual. It is peaking at 48s, 40s and 36s. Normally, it would peak at 27s and 32s.”

“We are seeing storms every five to seven days, which gives us plenty of time to plan accordingly, and we haven’t missed a beat.” - Craig Morris

Pummelos will be available from Homegrown in promotable supplies for the next six weeks, with 10/12 size fruit being the most prevalent.

Morris said the FOB price on most of the organic citrus varieties and sizes is running about 10 percent higher than last season due to increasing costs. Though this has led to a higher retail price on average, he said movement has been good, and promotions are still relevant and doable.

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