The California citrus season continues to move along at a steady pace, though some recent rains have slowed down the harvest a bit.
Jesse Silva of Kings River Packing shares: “The past months the weather has been really dry, so we saw really excellent picking conditions. In the last two weeks, however, there has been more fog and some rain.
“The fruit needs to be picked dry, so we have to plan out our picking moments a bit more when the weather is like this, but we don’t mind it because it allows us to plan our harvest well and pick according to the demand.
“So, the rain is definitely welcome because it helps to refill the aquafers and the snow will bring good runoff from the mountains in the spring.”
High demand for citrus continues
Going into the season, Kings River Packing was anticipating high demand, and they were not disappointed.
“When the pandemic hit last year, in March and April, the demand spiked up to 150% – nobody could fill their shelves or pick the fruit fast enough. This high demand continued, though it levelled off a little bit, but the market was active right out of the gate this season.
“Retailers and consumers alike were really excited for the California citrus to hit the market again, so we had a lot of retailer support and contracts when we started our harvest in October for the mandarins, Navel oranges and lemons,” Silva shares.
He adds: “The quality is really good this season too, so that has only added to the excitement we’re seeing this season.”
With Christmas and the New Year fast approaching, the demand is anticipated to rise even more. “We have seen a huge lift in citrus demand from retailers, and many are planning citrus promotions around the start of the new year.
“There is always a focus on healthier eating at the start of the year and this year it will likely be even more than usual. We will also have our Heirloom Navels ready for harvest at the start of the new year, so there will be a lot of promotions on that variety too,” Silva says.
This year, Kings River Packing launched a new brand for their mandarins: Poppies Mandarins. Silva explains: “Launching this new brand gives us the ability to pack the same quality fruit with a brand that retail customers and consumers can recognize. So far, the launch has gone really well, and we have seen really high demand for mandarins.
“In January, we will start with the Shasta mandarins and then in February the Gold Nuggets will also enter the market. While demand for all citrus is up this season, we are seeing that the mandarins and the Navel oranges are really shining in terms of demand and sales.”
The mandarins are slightly up in volumes this year, by about 5-10% for Kings River Packing, but overall industry volumes on citrus are on par with previous years, Silva shares.
“We are seeing an increased demand in bagged items this season. This is mostly because both retailers and consumers are both looking more for convenience. Bags are easier to pick up for consumers, but they’re also more efficient to stock for the retailer compared with stocking stacks of bulk items,” he explains.
With regard to all the unprecedented challenges this year, the company is proud of how they have reacted to it all: “We were able to put safety protocols in place right from the start of the pandemic and it has really paid off in the safety and efficiency of our operations, so we’re really happy about that, and we are excited about how this season is playing out,” Silva concludes.