(May 21, 2:23 p.m.) Marketers of South African clementines could face challenges later this summer, but navels could be an easier sell, importers say.

DNE World Fruit Sales, Fort Pierce, Fla., expects to begin receiving South African clementines in Philadelphia in mid-June, with navels following soon after, said Tom Cowan, South African citrus sales manager.

The first bulk vessel is expected to arrive July 1, he said.

Minneolas should follow in early August, mandarins in late August or early September and midknights in late September.

Volume shipments of clementines from South Africa likely won’t arrive until the second half of June, said Luke Sears, president of LGS Specialty Sales Ltd, New York.

The economic downturn could put a damper on demand this summer, with retailers steering toward smaller — and cheaper — packs, Cowan said.

“The poor U.S. economy will make marketing citrus a bigger challenge this summer,” he said. “Consumers will be looking for the best value in produce items, so we expect to see more clementines offered in two-pound and three-pound bags as retailers target lower price points to attract customers.”

Navels could fare better, with the California deal expected to wrap up in June, opening a window wide for South African imports, Cowan said.

On May 20, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $13.33-14.35 for 7/10 bushel cartons of navels 48-56s from California, down from $20-22 last year at the same time.

South African clementines, running two or three weeks late this season, could risk missing a marketing window, Sears said.

By the time volume shipments begin, many retailers will be turning their focus to Fourth of July promotions featuring other summer fruits, Sears said.

“What we don’t market in June, it doesn’t mean we can market twice as much in July,” he said.

An unfavorable exchange rate will probably steer more South African product to Europe this year, Sears added.

Color and brix levels on early fruit are good, Cowan said.

Meanwhile, in Chile, clementine shipments started by mid-May, but ran a bit behind last season’s pace due to lower temperatures this year, said Tom Tjerandsen, marketing director for the Sacramento, Calif.-based Chilean Fresh Fruit Association.

The cool weather will, however, help fruit size, Tjerandsen said.