Chile is expected to send enough volume of clementines to meet strong demand in the U.S.

However, because of seasons cut short by weather in California and Florida, expect a gap before the Chilean crops comes in.

“The California deal ending early leaves the market empty of easy-peelers. They have become such a staple and are going to be hard to find in May and maybe into June,” said Mark Greenberg, president and chief executive officer of St. Laurent, Quebec-based Fisher Capespan.

This year’s clementines from Chile also were affected by the weather, but the overall crop looks good and anticipation is high for the season’s results.

Greenberg said since the Chilean crop is grown on widely varying geography and only certain areas experienced a water shortage, overall they are having a good growing season.

“The water shortage will cause a late ripening of the product, but the autumn is looking good,” Greenberg said.

Harvest of Chilean clementines was under way in the first half of April, with peak volumes expected in the U.S. by the end of May, said Tom Tjerandsen, managing director for North America with the Sonoma, Calif.-based Chilean Fresh Fruit Association.

The clementine deal is expected to run through about early August, Tjerandsen said. Volumes should be about 7% higher than last year, when Chilean growers shipped 32,000 tons, the vast majority to North America.

Volumes of Chilean navels, meanwhile, should increase by about 10% this season over last season, when about 64,000 tons were exported, Tjerandsen said. Navels should ship through mid-October.

As of April 16, growers were reporting good size and quality, Tjerandsen said.

No widespread problems

Steve Marinello, director of imports for Seald Sweet International, Vero Beach, Fla., said last year’s weather affected the crop more severely.

“Chile experienced severe drought last year and two cold snaps during harvest, which reduced exportable product,” Marinello said. “This year, (they) still have water problems but not as widespread or severe as last year.”

James Milne, director of marketing and category director of citrus and avocado for The Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columbia, agreed.

“There are no dramatic problems like years past. We have had a regular growing season — a little issue with water, but the crop will be nice,” Milne said.

While size may be down, flavor is up, Marinello said.

“The internal flavor will be good due to warmer weather the last couple months,” Marinello said.

Kim Flores, director of marketing at Seald Sweet agreed.

“The quality reports in the field are very good. Expect high color and high brix,” she said.

Demand keeps growing

The popularity of clementines has crossed from children to adults, which has increased the demand. Steve Marinello, director of imports for Seald Sweet International, Vero Beach, Fla., said now adults are choosing clementines as snack options.

“U.S. consumers have grown to love the clementine/mandarin category. The sweet, juicy flavor of the fruit is enjoyed by consumers and the easy-to-peel, seedless qualities make it a convenient fruit, especially for children,” said Kim Flores, director of marketing for Seald Sweet.

“There were isolated cases of seed in last year’s crop but that has been solved,” Marinello said.

Demand for all varieties of this fruit are consistently rising, Flores said.

“Retailers have steadily been increasing promotions and the shelf space for clementines, including end caps and stand-alone displays. The growing demand has proven the overall success of this commodity in the U.S.,” he said.

“Clementine consumption is increasing, and the trend is away from 5-pound boxes and toward 2- and 3-pound bags. Consumers are now looking for clementines as well as other citrus varieties in the summer months more so than in the past,” said Matt Gordon, Chilean import manager at DNE World Fruit Sales, Fort Pierce, Fla.

Markets Editor Andy Nelson contributed to this report.