GLOUCESTER CITY, NJ — This summer citrus season is beginning in a stronger marketing position than a year ago, according to Marc Solomon, president of Fisher Capespan, headquartered here.
In a June 15 interview, Mr. Solomon said he was “eagerly awaiting” the arrival of the season’s first vessel of South African fruit. Like all South African citrus vessels this summer, the ship was to discharge at the Gloucester Marine Terminal, which is a couple of blocks up the Delaware River from Mr. Solomon’s office. He noted that South Africans have scheduled vessels to land into Gloucester City every 10-14 days. This will keep “a new, fresh stock in the marketplace.”
In June 2010, the end of a large California citrus crop remained in the market. “This year, California is ending as we are starting, so retailers are eagerly waiting for our fruit.”
The first vessel from South Africa will bear clementines and Navels. Mr. Solomon said that both of those citrus offerings are down in production this year, “but the size is good. There is a little less fruit, but U.S. retailers want bigger fruit, so this is almost a blessing.”
In the citrus groves of South Africa’s Western Cape, he said, “everything on the trees has a quality that looks exceptionally good. The color is high and Brix are very good.”
Mr. Solomon said that Fisher Capespan has scheduled retail promotions for South African citrus. These promotions are mostly set for August, when the volume will be at its peak.
Fisher Capespan will slightly increase its low volume of South African citrus, which was admitted for the first time in 2010 into the United States under U.S. Department of Agriculture phytosanitary regulations.
The Star Ruby grapefruit variety will arrive in July. Based on the good response of retailers to 2010’s test shipments, “we are optimistic again this year.” There are a couple of reasons South African grapefruit volumes will remain low in 2011. “The growers are conservative and they don’t want to overload the market,” he said. Furthermore, the U.S. market wants large sizes of grapefruit, and “this year it is not a very large-sized crop. Mother Nature has given us a fairly small fruit size. We don’t want to bring a size the retailer doesn’t want.”
The majority of Fisher Capespan’s South African citrus volume this year will be clementines and Navels. “All indications are that this is good fruit, and our customers await it. By the beginning of July, it should be in the distribution channel.”
Mr. Solomon said, “It would be a fair comment that the U.S. is a mature market for summer citrus.” Summer citrus is reaching the middle of the United States — although consumers there may not yet know the source of that fruit.
“We are trying to get the consumers to be knowledgeable and aware” that the citrus is from South Africa and has the attractive features of traceability and food safety precautions. “We are very confidant, and we want to educate consumers” about the fruit.
Summer citrus importers “have product everywhere now, and it is a more mature category. We can grow the market, but it is available through the country.”
Mr. Solomon said that South African fruit importers used the Railex system last year on a limited basis, although there was an initial plan to ship to the West Coast by rail. In reality, Chilean citrus shippers put heavy supplies into the west, and “market conditions would have been difficult.” This year, “if we do go west, Railex is a good option. But we will only use it if market conditions allow.”
Fisher Capespan’s South African citrus volume this year will “reflect the industry” with a reduced crop of Navels and clementines, “and grapefruit up a little bit.”
Fisher Capespan in mid-June had received its first containers of Peruvian citrus. “Chile is late, so Peru came into an empty market. Chile is late and light due to a drought there. Expect Chile to increase in July.”
Fisher Capespan is receiving clementines and Minneolas from Peru and clementines and Navels from Chile.