Feb 9, 2023
Fruitful February shaping up for citrus

Citrus appears to be bouncing back from a slower-than-usual January, dampened by torrential rains in California, according to an Organic Produce Network report.

Many varieties are in peak volume with promotional pricing in February, the report found.

After a traditionally strong January was dampened by California rains, organic citrus crops are bouncing back in February. Photo: File

“It’s go time right now for at least the next 60 days on many of our citrus varieties,” said Craig Morris, citrus category manager for Homegrown Organic Farms in Porterville, California. “We have a dozen varietals, and we are about 40% to 45% through our volume. Cara Cara, Minneola, grapefruit, mandarins, lemons, navels, and heirloom navels are all moving into the peak of the season.”

Morris said the rains halted citrus momentum coming into Christmas.

“It was shaping up to be our best season ever. Then it started raining, and everything came to a standstill,” he said.

On the bright side, Morris said the wet weather improved crop size and filled aquifers.

“Before the rain, we were looking at fruit on the medium-to-small size, which pointed to some great promotional opportunities for bags,” he said. “Now we have promotional opportunities for both bulk and bags. The rain really was a growth accelerator.”

Rain has also helped the upcoming summer crops of organic lemons, grapefruit, and Valencias, Morris said

Spencer Bernardo, fruit buyer for Earl’s Organic Produce in San Francisco, agreed that February and March will offer excellent organic citrus promotional opportunities. He said navel oranges have great sizing and are at the peak of flavor, as are Minneolas.

California’s organic lemon crop is also offering great promotional opportunities. “Lemons are often treated like the ugly, red-headed stepchild, but they are hitting it out of the park with solid pricing and great quality,” Bernardo said.

However, Bernardo said one crop isn’t joining the promotion party: “Limes are short, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better.”

Christina Ward, senior director of global marketing at Sunkist Growers, said IRI data showed organic citrus volume was up 20% in 2022 compared to 2018, with growth across nearly all varieties.

“While there was increased pressure on retail prices due to inflation and a lighter California crop last year, which impacted the category in 2022, we’re optimistic that consumers will continue to seek organics into the 2023 season,” she said.

According to a recent Sunkist-commissioned study, one in four consumers surveyed said they always purchase organic citrus. West and Southeast regions are leading the way in organic citrus growth, with increases of more than double digits compared to four years ago.

“The Southeast has seen the largest growth when it comes to organic citrus sales, up more than 50% through December 2022 compared to four years ago,” Ward said.

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