The impact of the recession on Chilean clementines has been minimal, and growers have turned to increasing varieties to meet strong U.S. demand.

“The recession really did not have a dramatic effect on the products we sold last year,” said Mark Greenberg, vice president of procurement for Fisher Capespan USA LLC, Gloucester City, N.J. “There is a place for every kind of fruit on retailer shelves. Retailers want to present to their customers the full range of fruit.”

Greenberg said he thinks clementines are a product retailers need to have and there were reasonable values for growers and consumers last year.

“Retailers are discovering that there are strong sales for summer citrus across the country,” agreed Mark Hanks, vice president of sales and marketing for DNE World Fruit Sales, Fort  Pierce, Fla.

Matt Gordon, Chilean program manager at DNE, added that the record volume and price stability of last summer was “remarkable in a soft economy.”

James Milne, citrus category director for The Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columbia, said in a tight economy, the 2- and 3-pound bagged clementines provide an affordable and convenient option for health-conscious shoppers.

“They represent good value because they last well, and they are high in vitamin C and other nutrients,” he said. “Clementines in this pack-style have performed well despite the recessionary conditions.”

Milne said Oppenheimer is striving to balance consumer demand and grower returns.

Manuel Jose Alcaino, president of Decofrut, a Santiago, Chile, said that last summer at the height of the recession, clementines were still received well.

“In general, the interest has created a demand, the volumes have increased and the prices have risen,” he said.

Joe Berberian, sales manager for Bee Sweet Citrus Inc., Fowler, Calif., said the difference this year will be in what prices can be obtained at the retail level.

“I don’t think selling clementines for $6.50 for a 5-pound box is going to happen this year,” he said, despite acknowledging fairly good movement last year. “I think it’s going to be tough to get high dollar for it.”

David Mixon, chief marketing officer for Seald Sweet, Vero Beach, Fla. disagreed, saying he saw no major reason for “any huge increase or decrease in price.”

“There are the same type of opportunities of volume and pricing with the knowledge that we are still in a recession,” he said. “It is not going to be a better year than we would hope it would or could be with this economy.”

Paul Marier, vice president of sales and marketing in Montreal for Fisher Capespan, Saint-Laurent, Quebec, considers clementines a staple item and said most of the chain stores he visited saw positive or flat growth.

Marier also said with consumers taking less expensive vacations they are willing to spend money on higher priced grocery items.

“The bottom line is no, the recession didn’t have the impact that any of us thought it would have,” he said.

Varieties increase

Chilean clementine suppliers report a sizeable increase in late season varieties, thanks to a shift in plantings.

“The true potential is in the late season,” said Milne.

He said the early season clementine deal is fairly mature with little room for development.

“The emergence of the w. murcott may extend the Chilean clementine season ¯ which usually wraps up around the end of August,” he said.

Milne said the murcott variety can extend the Chilean deal through October.

“As the traditional clementines wind down, the injection of this newer fruit into the market enables us to promote it very confidently for the back-to-school window with good results,” he said.

Gordon said murcotts are definitely a variety that growers are planting for the late season, along with more fukimoto navels to compete in the early market.

Alcaino estimated the murcott increase this year to be in the vicinity of 35% over last year. The variety could compete with Spanish clementines this fall, he said.

Ronald Bown, president of the Chilean Exporters Association in Santiago, said the murcott is the top growing product on new plantations.

“The variety is the only one that could show a substantial increase in planting areas,” he said

Tom Tjerandsen, managing director for North America for the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association, Sonoma Calif., agreed clementines have established well in the U.S. and will continue to increase in volume in coming years.

“Clementines have been a strong business for the North American marketplace, and we’re looking for continued growth,” he said.