Mandarins new driver of citrus category

As with other citrus production this year, mandarin volume out of California is expected to be down, growers say.

But the category continues to explode in sales, often at the expense of navel oranges.

“It has eroded (navel) sales, yes,” said Randy Jacobsen, sales manager at Orange Cove, Calif.-based Cecelia Packing Corp. “The mandarins have become the driver of the citrus category, whereas navels were a decade ago.”

Navels remain the core of the citrus deal in Arizona and California, but not the growth driver.

This year’s mandarin deal should get underway with satsumas in October, with clementines and murcotts beginning after the first of the year and going into April and May, said Bob Blakely, vice president of the Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual.

The category had a pretty good year in 2016-17 and the industry anticipates more success, if a bit lower volume, in the upcoming season, Blakely said.

Jacobsen said last year was a success.

“We had bigger sales than ever before,” he said.

Orange Cove-based Mulholland Citrus, which offered the Delite as the first California mandarin in the marketplace 20 years ago, has taken the product to a new level by offering Delites through Valencia, Calif.-based Sunkist Growers Inc., said Heather Mulholland, chief operating officer.

“We’re looking at 8 million 5-pound equivalents,” she said.

Hot weather in the late spring and early summer months will tamp down mandarin volume this year, but there will be plenty of product available, said Joan Wickham, Sunkist spokeswoman.

The addition of Mulholland’s fruit will help, she said.

“We are taking the opportunity to refresh our mandarin program, and are introducing retailers this season to Sunkist Delite mandarins,” she said. “Delite is the original California mandarin brand, created by the first family to grow and market murcott mandarins in California. Sunkist is bringing the name back into the marketplace with this program, leveraging the heritage of quality that it represents.”

Delano, Calif.-based Wonderful Citrus anticipates continued growth of its Halos mandarins, said Adam Cooper, vice president of marketing.

Wonderful and Paramount Citrus also held the Cuties brand before Pasadena, Calif.-based Sun Pacific Shippers acquired the trademark in 2013. That year, Wonderful Citrus launched the Halos line.

“Overall, across the citrus category, mandarins have been driving growth,” he said. “We’ve seen it’s now well over a $1 billion category.”

Cooper said Halos now own a 53% market share of mandarin sales.

“In four years since Halos launched, we’ve represented 73% of that category growth,” he said.

Halos have influenced citrus sales, and more, Cooper said.

“Last year, Halos alone accounted for 12% of total produce department dollar growth, so they’re driving sales in the whole produce department,” he said.