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Fort Pierce, FL-based DNE World Fruit Sales' first 2010 shipment of Australian citrus arrived June 18 at the port of Long Beach, CA, carrying some pleasant surprises.

A heat wave after the Australian trees blossomed caused a bloom drop, and subsequent heavy rains resulted in huge, sweet fruit and a "surprisingly pretty strong crop," Stu Monaghan, national sales manager for DNE, told The Produce News June 28.

Last year’s Australian citrus was sweet and plentiful, but the fruit was small. This year’s fruit is so large — Navels and tangerines are running “one to two sizes larger” than usual, Mr. Monaghan said — that DNE has had to change some packaging plans.

DNE had hoped to introduce Australian clementines to the U.S. market this year — 15,000 cases in a window that is open before the Chilean crop comes in — but the fruit is simply too large to package in two-to-three pound bags. “The fruit is really good, but the problem is consumers prefer two-to-three pound bags” for clementines, Mr. Monaghan explained.

Clementines remain part of DNE’s future plans for Australian citrus. The initial shipment of Fallglo tangerines (24,000 cases, up from 20,000 last year) is “down to the end,” but there are plenty of Navels already in the United States with other ships carrying more — along with Daisy tangerines — due July 2, Mr. Monaghan said.

Last year, DNE imported 1.8 million cartons of Australian Navels, but due mainly to the larger fruit size, that number will be 1.2 million this year. The fruit grew so large and so fast that DNE was able to push its Australian citrus schedule forward by two weeks this year.

“The fruit is solid, it’s good color, it eats great,” Mr. Monaghan said, adding that Brix levels, which were high last year, are even higher this season. Even better, acid levels are high, resulting in a sweet, tangy orange that tastes “just like a Navel should.”

He said that Australian citrus should maintain its size and volume through August, but production of later-maturing varieties is expected to be light. Mr. Monaghan said that DNE has plenty of leeway to work with retailers promoting Australian citrus this summer, with display contests, demos and ad support all part of the program.