Keeping seeds out of tangerines and mandarins isn’t always as easy as it seems. Sometimes, Mother Nature can take over, and the seeds still appear, according to citrus suppliers.

“Naturally, all fruit has seeds, so man crosses hybrids and we get a seedless tangerine variety,” said Robert Schueller, director of public relations for World Variety Produce, Los Angeles, which markets under the Melissa’s label.

The appearance of seeds in some tangerines or mandarins can be problematic for companies that want to keep consumers happy with their seedless expectations.

“If a product is claimed to be seedless and perceived as seedless by consumers, who then find seeds, they can be very disappointed,” said Scott Owens, vice president of sales and trade marketing for Paramount Citrus, Los Angeles.

Schueller agreed.

“You’ll definitely hear from a consumer if there’s a label that said seedless and a variety has seeds when they get it home,” he said.

Some companies have found that only offering seedless varieties helps with confusion.

“We tend to not distribute any seeded fruit,” Schueller said.

Either way, communication with retailers is vital.

Then, retailers need to clearly communicate that information to consumers.

“It’s typical that a retailer would have imported seeded mandarins and clementines during the offseason for domestic fruit,” Schueller said.


Growing issues

Fred Berry, director of marketing for Mulholland Citrus, Orange Cove, Calif., said location is an important factor that can affect if fruit develops seeds.

“If the fruit is grown in a situation where it has a lot of pollination pressures, the instance of a seed can be greater,” he said.

This means that not only can certain orchards have a higher instance of seeds, but that trees on the outer edge of the orchard tend to have a higher probability of seeds.

“Bees tend to go where it’s easiest for them to get the pollen,” Berry said.

Companies have developed a way to discourage the tree’s production seeds even more. Nets over trees can prevent bees from pollinating fruit.

“Really, citrus trees don’t need bees to pollinate the fruit, so we can try to prevent them from reaching the tree, although that’s not 100% foolproof,” Berry said.

In addition, newer varieties are being developed to resist the natural occurrence of seeds.

“Newer varieties like the tango are not as prone to cross-pollination and the forming of seeds as some of the other varieties,” said Bob Blakely, director of industry relations for Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual.


Seeds happen

Sometimes seeds still appear in fruit despite efforts to prevent them.

“We do everything we can to be as seedless as possible, but every now and then, there could be a bee that gets through and Mother Nature takes over, but that’s fairly rare,” Owens said.

Schueller calls these occasional seeds “tracer seeds” and said the occurrence is very uncommon.

“I’d say less than 5% would have a tracer seed,” he said.

Schueller compared the occurrence to an occasional black seed in a seedless watermelon variety, and said most consumers are understanding.

Owens agrees that consumers tend to be fairly tolerant of the possibility of finding a seed in an occasional piece of fruit.

Berry said the industry doesn’t have a set standard for how much fruit can have seeds before it is no longer considered seedless.

“It gets down to how you define seedless. Some retailers definition is that it must be less than 10% of the fruit, but that can vary between retailers. Some are more generous and allow 20% or even 30%,” he said.

At that point, it’s a semantics issue, Berry said.

To him, though, seedless should mean that no fruit has seeds, and that’s what most companies strive for.

“Our goal is to be as seedless as possible,” he said.