Most crops do not start a season at optimal quality, and Florida citrus is no exception — usually. That is not the case this year, according to David Mixon, chief marketing officer of Seald Sweet International in Vero Beach, FL.
“Traditionally, we as an industry and most of the produce industry start out with a fruit that is not quite at the maturity you’d like to see, but this year from day one we had excellent Brix levels and a good ratio between sugar and acid,” Mr. Mixon said. The result is fruit that “really tastes like citrus needs to taste and an excellent start. The only negative within the whole process was the amount of import fruit that was still in the market when Florida started; that did not give us what we would call a clean switch from imported product into domestic product and slowed things down a little. But even with that, it was very positive and a lot of our partners utilized the positives of imported products on the same shelf with the Florida crop.”
Mr. Mixon said that this year’s Florida crop may be the best ever in terms of eating quality, and Seald Sweet plans plenty of in-store promotions to take advantage of that fact.
“With our demos and promotions with our customer base, it’s been an excellent year to continue to grow the category — and each of the varieties within the category — and we’ve done so earlier than usual,” Mr. Mixon said. “Traditionally, we tried to stay away from demos early but have been very, very successful thus far this year. With the product we have this season, a demo will definitely solidify a customer base for Florida citrus.”
Excellent growing weather has resulted in a larger crop of larger fruit than at any time in several years, Mr. Mixon said. The fruit also is in excellent shape cosmetically, though Florida citrus is never as pretty as its California cousins.
“We have great color this year: Because of the maturity and earlier bloom, you’re not fighting green, you’re not fighting melanose because you had a dry period in the early summer that allowed you to keep the rust mite and the melanose from participating. It was just a real good growing season with the exception of wind and rain, and you can’t be too negative on that because that’s what’s given us the size, despite a little bit of scarring,” Mr. Mixon said. “We’re probably not the best-looking piece of fruit on the shelf, but by far the best-eating piece, bar none. It has been a bit of a tough year because the amount of wind and rain we did have has created some exterior scarring that might even be a tad bit more than traditionally. But by all means the flavor is unbeatable.”
Promotional opportunities abound this year. Seald Sweet’s Sunburst tangerines will be available through Christmas before the company rolls straight into its Honey tangerine program with no gap. Like the Honeys, Temple oranges are coming in earlier than usual this year, and that program will begin around the first of the year following a crop of outstanding Navels.