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DNE World Fruit Sales Inc. in Fort Pierce, FL, is off to a great start this season, managing a crop that features smaller fruit than normal in a manner that makes it a promotable commodity for retailers and a bargain for consumers said Kevin Swords, Florida citrus sales manager.

"The quality is excellent and it's been a very good season thus far," Mr. Swords said. “We’ve had good retail promotional support — we’re just having to manage the crop more and deal with some smaller sizes, so the trick is finding the right package to move the smaller sizes to make it a value to the consumer and a way for us to be able to move the product. The harvesting people have their work cut out for them to make sure they spot pick to eliminate a surplus of tiny fruit. For the most part earlier in the season and for the most part right now everybody’s doing a good job of that.”

DNE’s smaller fruit is no anomaly — citrus fruit sizes are down globally this year for a variety of reasons. But from a quality standpoint, this is shaping up to be an excellent crop. And a bonus of the spot-picking that the smaller fruit requires is that most Florida citrus seasons will be extended by a few weeks. DNE, for example, “will be able to have grapefruit through May — we’ve had to send customers away by mid-April the last two years,” Mr. Swords said.

This year’s crop has been such high quality DNE was able to being packing its premium label Ocean Spray crop right after Thanksgiving, two to three weeks ahead of schedule.

With the excellent early start and the pressure of managing the crop more than typical, DNE is working to stay a step ahead in the planning process for the rest of the season.

“We’re trying to look ahead to January and February. We’re in the process of putting our Ocean Spray tie-in events together, where you cross tie-in Ocean Spray juice with Ocean Spray bagged grapefruit,” Mr. Swords said. “We always try to target January and February as big grapefruit promotion months. The crop is at its peak flavor, February is National Grapefruit Month. This is when we really shine and give the consumer who really likes grapefruit what they’re looking for, and hopefully pick up that new customer who might not like an early season grapefruit but will if they choose it at the right time, when it’s at flavor’s peak.

“The same goes for the juice oranges — we’ll be in the mid-season varieties and work our way into Valencias come late February, and you’re going to find the fruit sizing a little better with the cooler evenings, we’ll have better color and eating quality there as well,” Mr. Swords said. “We really try to use January as a marketing window — people are coming off the big bills from the Christmas holiday, so we try to be as aggressive as we can on pricing and still be proactive and get promotions in place — we try to find the packaging that correlates to consumer value, that’s what retailers hit us with.”

Mr. Swords recommended that retailers carry a full line of Florida citrus products, not just oranges and grapefruits. While consumers seemingly prefer clementines to other niche citrus products, Mr. Swords is mindful that there are many consumers who prefer the flavor of Florida honey tangerines.

“We know it’s a battle up against the seedless clementines, but it’s still one of the best-eating pieces of fruit Florida has,” Mr. Swords said. “There are consumers out there who will pick them up at the store and take them home. We’d encourage everyone to use them whether they promote it or not — there is a consumer who wants that taste.”