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A late start to the California clementine season, a good market and exceptional demand have DNE Imports Inc.'s Spanish clementine program starting with a bang.

"It’s starting off good," John Lazopoulos, DNE Imports’ sales manager for Spain and Morocco, told The Produce News Nov. 15. “Spain has been fortunate that California has a late start, prices are good, demand is exceptional — demand far exceeds supply — and we’re getting into the better varieties now from Spain.”

Mr. Lazopoulos said that the Spanish fruit would be smaller in size than usual but still larger than the crop coming from California. That will give retailers an opportunity to promote three-pound bags and five-pound boxes of the increasingly popular clementines. That and a stronger U.S. dollar on the world market might also mean that Spain will ship more fruit than anticipated to the United States this year.

“Business in Europe is starting to slow down, a lot of the cold storages and facilities are not moving the fruit quite as rapidly as they would like, and the dollar the last week [Nov. 8-12] has shown some strength. So there’s a little bit of hope they’ll send a little more of it,” Mr. Lazopolous said. “There’s no shortage of fruit in Spain. The movement in Europe has slowed down, and the currency exchange has gone in the dollar’s favor, and it’s encouraging and stimulating them to ship more.”

The Spanish clementines “are moving very quickly through the system, prices are pretty steady and firm, and I think in the next week you’ll start to see more 10x3 bags packed here,” Mr. Lazopolous said. “The retailers all have big ads for the holidays, and supplies are tight. There were retailers who were promised and had fruit committed to them from California, and California wasn’t able to supply them, so that made the Spanish program even tighter. The name of the game is to stay sold out and get paid for your product. The price-point will be there [and] a lot of retailers are going to carry the five- pounder and the bags.”

California clementines are “exceptionally small” in size this year, Mr. Lazopolous said, while the Spanish crop is still sizing up and should reach larger sizes — 18s and 20s — by the second week of December.

“As Spain gets into the better varieties, you’ll start to see some bigger sizes,” Mr. Lazopolous said. “The weather is perfect, the fruit has good color and it’s some of the best quality they’ve seen in years. Eating quality should be very good out of Spain and California as well.”

The Spanish clementines will last at least through January, he said, then the California varieties will be available into April, along with DNE’s Florida citrus varieties.

“We’re a company that’s quite diversified; the two [clementine programs] do complement our Florida program, and we’re able to capitalize on our strengths,” Mr. Lazopolous said.

Clementine consumption in the United States has been rising steadily over the past decade, sometimes cannibalizing other citrus categories. Clementines are “much more plentiful now, there’s much more fruit available and the season is longer,” Mr. Lazopolous said. “Even with all that said, consumption is still low in this country. There is a lot of room for growth in this category.” DNE Imports Inc. in Gloucester City, NJ, is a branch of Fort Pierce, FL-based DNE World Fruit Sales.