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Florida Classic Growers’ fall citrus looks as good as it tastes

As Christmas approaches, Florida Classic Growers of Lake Hamilton, FL, is taking advantage of a bumper crop of top-quality Florida citrus to boost its holiday gift and fundraising programs, according to Vice President of Sales and Marketing Al Finch.

“This has been an outstanding year and season,” Mr. Finch said. “We have had excellent arrivals on our citrus. Demand has definitely picked up — over the last month there has been lots of retail promotion on bagged tangerines and bagged Navels as well as bagged juice oranges.”

Given the size, appearance and eating quality of this year’s crop, Florida citrus has been in great demand as a holiday gift item. “Overall crop appearance on citrus year to date has been outstanding,” Mr. Finch said.

“There’s been a strong demand on our fundraising programs as well as gift fruit,” Mr. Finch said. “Orders have remained very strong for our gift fruit sales.”

Not only does Florida have an outstanding crop this year, “California has struggled getting larger-sized Navels early on,” Mr. Finch said. “A lot of the chain stores on the East Coast have stayed with the Florida Navel — especially with the eight-pound bags — longer than normal, so we will have the size available through the month of December. We have seen several of our customers experiencing increases in citrus category sales, especially in the Florida segment, versus last season. Many of our retail partners have expressed they’re having a terrific year on Florida citrus, and they look to continue that momentum in the second half of the season. It’s been a great season; the quality of the product and the Brix are there, the flavor has been terrific and we’ve had good repeat sales.”

He continued, “We’re looking to finish our Sunburst tangerine variety the week of Christmas as we move into the Honey tangerines; maturities on the Honey typically start after the first of the year, but they are already a couple of weeks ahead, as has been the case with all our varieties. Navels finish up at the end of the year; juice oranges we will continue through the holidays then move into our midseason orange varieties, available through middle of February; then we will start on our Valencia orange crop. We look forward to January, as many retailers have locked in promotions on grapefruit tying in with diet themes and New Year’s resolutions. We’ll also begin the first week of January on our Temple orange variety.”

Of all the pleasant surprises in this Florida citrus season, large fruit size is probably the most unexpected and most welcomed, Mr. Finch said.

“Sizing this season has been outstanding.” he said. “We’ve seen the Sunburst tangerine peaking on 120-size count, which is excellent. Navels have been peaking on 64, which is an excellent size for the eight-pound bag. That’s been a great opportunity this year; we’ve seen a strong push for those as well as four-pound bags.”

So far, it has been an excellent year. “Season to date, the industry is ahead of volume shipments versus last season,” he said, “and we look to continue that push for our second half of the season January through June.”