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SANTIAGO, CHILE -- Since the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved Navel orange imports from Chile last year, that country's ample crop has helped to increase imports of all oranges by the United States 35 percent this season to date, according to USDA Market News in early November.

Future shipments of Navels from Chile are expected to account for 25 percent of orange imports by the United States. Other countries that help make up the remainder of the import volume are Australia, South Africa, Spain, Mexico and the Dominican Republic.

"This surge in Navel orange import volume during a down economy proved successful because of the enthusiastic promotional support of distributors and retailers in anticipation of the abundant supplies," Tom Tjerandsen, managing director in North America of the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association in Sonoma, CA, said in a Dec. 17 press release. "Retailers grasp the profit potential of year-round promotions for this once-seasonal category."

Beyond Navel oranges, Chile has helped to make year-round citrus category promotions feasible with its accompanying export volume increases of clementines, lemons, tangelos and tangerines. Chile now accounts for two- thirds of U.S. imported clementines. This category saw a 218 percent import volume increase over the prior year. Tangelos arrived from Chile for the first time in the past year and now account for 5 percent of U.S. tangelo imports. Chilean tangerine imports were up 57 percent during the same period. Chile also currently has a 45 percent share of lemon imports by the United States.

"Increased citrus volume, combined with promotable pricing, comes at a time when consumers are paying attention to diet and health claims. As the high fructose levels of some juices come under fire, nutrition experts increasingly give whole citrus the health halo," Mr. Tjerandsen said in the release. "Navel oranges are the perfect choice for eating out of hand for instant energy."

Most notably, oranges are high in fiber, potassium, Vitamin C, calcium and Vitamin D. Combined with a healthy dose of folate, oranges provide essential nutrients for women during pregnancy.

And as consumers become increasingly aware of the role of beneficial phytochemicals found in fruit, promotions centered on the wholesomeness of whole fruit will only boost health and the industry, the release concluded.