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Great weather, retail support has Florida Classic off to solid start

Florida Classic Growers’ Fallglo tangerines were much larger this year than the previous two seasons.

Terrific weather and a focus on people eating food grown as close to home as possible has put Florida Classic Growers of Lake Hamilton, FL, in position for a terrific citrus season.

“We’re off to a great start, the maturity this year on all varieties seems to be a couple of weeks ahead versus last season,” said Vice President of Sales and Marketing Al Finch. “We started Fallglo tangerines in early September this year as well as Navels — everything is ahead of last year.”

Better yet, fruit size is up across the board. Florida Classic finished its Fallglos in early November and began moving into its Sunbursts, and the comparison to last year was dramatic. “Last year we were struggling to get 120-count and 100-count size tangerines, and 80 count were virtually nonexistent. This year the sizes are much better. Overall the crop’s a little smaller on the ‘Sunburst’ but the sizes are peaking much better. It’s good news,” Mr. Finch said.

Great weather has also made for fruit that is not only larger, but also more cosmetically appealing.

“The fruit has been clean, we had some cooler nights in October and the fruit began to color up with less degreening time needed. It’s been a terrific start so far,” Mr. Finch said. “The eating quality of our citrus this year is excellent, the sugar levels are good, it’s a nice crop.”

Florida Classic will wrap up its Navel and Sunburst programs around Christmas. The company began tangelos in late October and its Orlando variety will be available through the end of the year.

Florida Classic has had “good promotional activity” on its Hamelin oranges, and “lots of promotions” on 4-pound bag oranges, 3-pound bag tangerines, and 4- and 8-pound bag Navels. Grapefruit is also off to a good start, though “the real promotional period doesn’t kick in until the first of the year, tied in with diets and weight loss and New Year’s resolutions,” Mr. Finch said.

Basically, “this first half, up through Dec. 31, the promotional effort is on Navel oranges and tangerines. The Honey tangerines will start shortly after Christmas. That crop size is going to be a little larger, but the fruit sizing will be a little bit smaller than the Fallglos or Sunbursts so we’ll see more of those peaking on 150s. But it will still be an excellent crop.”

Though “the maturity is a little ahead of schedule,” Florida Classic will likely start its Temple orange program in mid-January, though Mr. Finch said those might be available Jan. 1. with a “three-to-four-week availability window.”

Mid-season oranges will begin after the Hamelins wrap up at the end of the year; Valencias could start ahead of schedule, “possibly some time in February and we’ll have those through the month of May and into mid-June,” Mr. Finch said.

Most Florida growers are off to a similar start as Florida Classic, something Mr. Finch attributes to several factors.

“There’s been lot of good promotional activity so far and retailers have really been promoting Florida citrus for this first part of the season. California’s a little late on their Navels and also with the higher price on the summer import Navels, the Florida Navel really fits in that nice window of opportunity,” Mr. Finch said. “Basically regional programs and supporting locally grown has really increased over the last few years and a lot of that has to do with food miles as well. But there seems to be a big push in the retail community of supporting locally grown and we’ve seen an uptick of promotional activity in support of Florida citrus in the Southeastern United States over the last few years.”