While California’s orange supply is thin this year, the demand worldwide continues to be stable for the fruit from the West Coast.
“While the California navel crop is the smallest volume crop the industry has seen since the 2008-2009 season, our volumes have remained consistent compared to the previous few seasons,” says Will Mehrten from Lafayette, Ca.-based The Fresh Connection. That said, he estimates the season should finish four to six weeks earlier than normal, likely ending early to mid-May. “The supplies are much tighter this season due to less production, less than optimum fruit condition, larger fruit sizes in general, and variable rains that have slowed picking,” adds Mehrten.
While competition for California citrus comes from as far away as Egypt, China and Spain, demand also comes internationally from markets such as Korea, China/Hong Kong, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia and more. “Along with that, the global trend for soft citrus production and consumption is growing and at what point does this significantly cannibalize traditional orange market-share in places like Hong Kong/China, Japan and southeast Asia?” asks Mehrten. “I feel that California oranges–in the right production window and with the right eating quality and condition–will still be met with good demand.” As examples, he points to hi-brix programs for Korea and summer navel programs for heavy pack markets in Asia.
To grow the market, Mehrten notes that innovation and production has been focused on a range of soft citrus varieties such as Clemengold and Sumo being planted in larger volumes in many citrus production areas around the world.
“Our outlook for the balance of the California orange season is that we’ll continue to see steady demand for the right brands and quality, but this most certainly will also be met with increased pricing,” says Mehrten. “In a season like this, it is difficult for a grower to make money on a shorter crop even with higher prices and for a customer to make money with average quality and higher than normal pricing. Hopefully there can be a balance between the two.”