Christmas comes early every year for Texas citrus grower-shippers as buyers stock up for the winter holidays. Business actually doubles from November to December for Edinburg Citrus Association, Edinburg, said Ruben Shives, sales manager.

“Right after Thanksgiving is when your gift fruit programs start up and citrus starts happening all over the country,” Shives said.

Grapefruit and oranges are popular items for gift boxes and fall fund-raising campaigns, but citrus typically isn’t highly promoted at retail during December.

“Some (retailers) like to go with fruit during the holiday ads, but it’s not common,” Shives said. “It’s not as big of a promotion time for retailers as one might think, but it is promoted.”

Healds Valley Farms Inc., Edinburg, sees a citrus sales spike for Christmas but not so much for Thanksgiving, said Richard Walsh, marketing director,

“For Thanksgiving, people are generally thinking about things that go with turkeys,” he said.

Demand for gift boxes and an increase in fundraisers typically pick up around the holidays, he said, but citrus movement often is affected by availability of other items.

If supplies of watermelon are tight, for example, retailers may allocate more space to grapefruit and oranges, Walsh said.

“You’re competing for space out there,” he added.

At Rio Queen Citrus Inc., Mission, Texas, president Mike Martin says an emphasis on commodities like sweet potatoes and broccoli for Thanksgiving is followed by a surge of citrus during the weeks after the November holiday.

“Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, we usually have a real good push,” he said.

In Texas and throughout the Midwest, school organizations, 4-H clubs and church groups typically conduct fundraising campaigns that cause a sales lift, he said.

Gift shippers and mail order firms typically request large, premium fruit, he said, while fundraisers tend to offer value packs with medium-size fruit.

Retailer requests vary.

“Everybody has a different way to merchandise the fruit,” Martin said.

Grower-shippers are happy that different customers want different-sized fruit because they have a variety of sizes to move.

“All fruit is not one size,” he said.

Rio Queen often holds back certain groves for harvesting at particular times.

“Sometimes we set aside a whole block if we know we have the right size and quality for a certain segment of the market,” Martin said.

While sales spike more significantly for Christmas, Susie Lacy, sales broker for Ideal Sales Inc., Dallas, said she also sees a boost in movement for Thanksgiving for oranges and grapefruit.

At Edinburg Citrus Association, holiday business is about equally divided between oranges and grapefruit, Shives said.

“You have gift fruit all around you,” he said, with many supermarkets advertising gift boxes.

Despite the holiday hoopla, sales actually peak at Healds Valley in January, Walsh said.

That may due in part to the fact that many consumers received a gift box for the holidays and have gotten into the habit of eating the fruit, so they buy more in the weeks and months following the holidays, he said.

Martin also attributes post-holiday demand to an increase in dieting after the holidays and to consumers who buy citrus during the cold season in January and February to get their intake of vitamin C.

Grapefruit consumption has changed, Walsh said.

The fruit used to be considered a breakfast item, but now, with more family members eating breakfast outside the home, he said, the industry needs to promote other uses for grapefruit, such as in salsa and margaritas or with a spinach salad.