Retailers — and consumers — have learned over the years they can rely on a steady supply of imported navel oranges and other citrus long after domestic supplies have shut down for the summer.

At Sunset Foods Inc., a group of five stores based in Highland Park, Ill., produce and floral director Vince Mastromauro carries California navels and heirloom navels as far into the summer as he can, then he switches to California valencias and imported product from South Africa, Chile and Australia.

The stores’ clientele is “very educated,” he said.

“We have a calling for (citrus) from all three countries.”

All of the stores carry navel oranges and Chilean clementines, he said, while some carry a more extensive selection.

Summer competitors

Citrus also is a bigger seller during the fall than summer at Apple Valley Market, Berrien Springs, Mich., said Stephen Milanowski, produce manager.

The store’s citrus display, therefore, is smaller than the display for summertime’s featured items, such as peaches, plums and cherries.

Citrus sales in summer are about half of what they are in winter, he said. Still, he makes sure the fruit is available to his customers.

“Usually, I have a nice display in wicker baskets of citrus fruits,” Milanowski said.

Mandarins, minneolas and seedless lemons from South Africa; late lane navels and lemons from California; clementines from Chile; and jaffa oranges from Israel are some of the summer citrus items at Palmer’s Supermarket Inc. in Darien, Conn., said produce manager Mike Manginelli.

Unlike at some stores, Palmer’s sells about the same amount of citrus in summer as it does in winter, Manginelli said.

In fact, he said summer lemon sales actually surpass those of winter.

In all, summer citrus volume at Sunset Foods is only 10% to 15% of winter citrus volume.

“The volume is not as much, and we manage it as such,” Mastromauro said.

The stores rarely advertise citrus during the summer, for example, since shoppers are more in tune with stone fruit.

An exception is Australian navels, which Mastromauro often advertises toward the end of summer to get moms back into the habit of buying oranges for their children’s school lunch boxes.

Navels from Australia or South Africa, along with mandarins, account for the majority of the summer citrus sales at Apple Valley Market, but the store also offers lemons, limes and grapefruit.

Milanowski features citrus on ad once a month during the warmer months compared to almost weekly in winter, when grapefruit, oranges, clementines, tangelos and mandarins take turns as featured items of the week.

That trend hasn’t changed much over the years, he said, since consumers tend to focus on summer fruits in summer and winter citrus in winter.

Navels remain a staple throughout the year, however.

Palmer’s Supermarket dedicates one of its four produce tables to citrus and features citrus on ad two or three times a month.

“Last week, we had bagged navels on ad,” Manginelli said in mid-May. “This week we have valencias.”

Navels, valencias and lemons are top citrus sellers, he said.

“Kids buy a ton of navels for hydration,” he said, when they’re participating in summer sports.

Shoppers don’t mind that the fruit is imported rather than domestic, he said.

Manginelli puts out peeled, sectioned oranges and grapefruit with toothpicks in a sample tray on ice.

“Consumers taste it, they like it, and they buy it,” he said.

Although the store sells bagged navels, valencias, mandarins, lemons and occasionally grapefruit, shoppers prefer loose product, he said.