(Oct. 19) Warm nights have delayed the start of the Spanish clementine season by about a week, and even though the first containers will arrive before November, retailers will be seeing larger fruit and limited supplies as they plan Thanksgiving promotions.

At the same time, overall shipments to the U.S. could be down by about 15%, based on the acreage that went through the pre-certification process mandated for entry to U.S. markets.

It’s the second delayed season in a row. Rains pushed back last fall’s shipments, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s first f.o.b. report wasn’t issued until Nov. 10. On that date, 2.3-kilogram (5-pound) boxes were $4.25-4.50 for sizes 20, 24 and 28, $3.75-4 for 32s and $3.50 for 36s. Prices were slightly lower when the USDA released its last f.o.b. report on Feb. 9, with all available sizes priced $3.25-3.75 a box.

STRONG DEMAND PREDICTED

Importers expect a strong demand as the season starts, said Bill Weyland, general manager of imports for DNE World Fruit Sales, Fort Pierce, Fla. Weyland is based in the company’s North Brunswick, N.J., office. In part, that’s spurred by the citrus losses in Florida caused by recent hurricanes.

“I’d say the initial response from retailers was a little bit of disappointment when we communicated the problems we are facing as an industry on size,” Weyland said. “But there has always been a demand to promote clementines for the holidays.”

In a more typical year, sizes before Thanksgiving lean to the 28s, moving to the 24s after Thanksgiving as the fruit grows larger on the trees, said Mike Kostick, citrus category product manager for The Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columbia. This year, there will be more 32s before Thanksgiving, with lighter availability on 24s and 28s, Kostick said.

“The consensus is the market is definitely going to be short pre-Thanksgiving, compared to a typical historical year,” he said. “We will probably have enough volume to do some selected promotions before Thanksgiving, but for the industry as a whole, it will be tight.”

Kostick estimates the industry will be down about 15% throughout the season, but he said Oppenheimer will increase its volumes. Weyland said DNE’s supplies will remain steady.

Both companies expect to import the first containers of Spanish clementines the last week of October, followed by break-bulk shipments the first week of November. Break bulk denotes pallets of cartons stored directly in a ship’s hold and not in the 40-foot metal containers, which hold 20 pallets each.

Kostick said exchange rates and an apparent hesitation caused by perceived market uncertainty might have led to the decrease in acreage certified by the September deadline. That uncertainty was caused by the USDA’s import ban of Spanish clementines from Dec. 5, 2001, to the start of the 2002 season, following Medfly larvae finds in the fruit.