The produce industry’s umbrella entity, United Fresh publishes a quarterly review of what sales patterns are in the produce department. For the 4th quarter, 2018 and the year in total interesting facts emerge for citrus. As a whole, fresh produce sales slightly increased in 2018. While shopping in the 4th quarter, 2018; 98% of the consumers purchased fresh fruits and/or vegetables with fruit accounting for 45.6% of the volume purchased. This was a slight drop from the comparable time in 2017. For citrus, mandarin sales were down some 6.5%, orange sales were even with the 4th quarter, 2017 and lemon sales were up 8.7% over the same period in 2017.
Not too surprising when one considers that the 2017/18 crop for oranges as one of the best in terms of quality and flavor on record which eventually yielded almost record returns. Ditto to some degree for mandarins BUT the 4th quarter 2018 was adversely affected by inconsistent quality and price of off shore product lingering in the marketplace. This created confusion at the retail level and consumers dissatisfied with off shore product being offered failed to sustain citrus purchases even though California was on the market.
However, 2018 as a whole was deemed very positive for oranges, lemons, and mandarins inasmuch the first six months of the calendar year were outstanding in terms of pounds purchased and dollars spent. The 4th quarter of 2018 is a topic of concern for CCM and the industry as we try and determine whether this was an aberration relative to excess tonnage and inconsistent quality from off shore locations or the beginning of a trend that could turn into a problem resulting in an industry crisis.
The data above was emphasized over and over at the Marketing Workshop held at last Thursday’s Citrus Showcase. Quality sells and initial product from California was less than normal. That coupled with dissatisfaction on lingering off shore product slowed sales significantly panel members emphasized. Furthermore, very inexpensive grapes from California also lingered capturing shelf space normally assigned to citrus. What does this portend for the second half of the season? Panel members from the sales desks were optimistic regarding the quality of the fruit but hesitant to state small sizes would bring any return to growers. Can the second half of the orange/mandarin season offset the first half? “That depends” was the universal statement inasmuch it is expected that utilization will go down, size structure does matter and marketers need to work with retailers to bring customers back to the citrus section.