With the economy suffering worldwide, extending the shipping season for any export seems like a good idea.

Therein lies the popularity of the Chilean clementine variety known as the w. murcott.

“That variety is finding a lot of favor,” said James Milne, executive director of citrus for The Oppenheimer Group, British Columbia. “Murcotts stole the scene (in 2008) and now that there’s more acreage being planted in Chile, I think we’ll see a lot more murcotts in the U.S. They’re a late-season variety, so it’ll fill a nice gap in the market around back-to-school time.”

A year ago was not favorable for much variety of clementines coming out of Chile or anywhere else, for that matter. The U.S. dollar was weak, and cold temperatures in Chile delayed — and, thus, shrunk — the seasons.

This year, however, the dollar has gained strength, and Chile had a prime growing season, ensuring a large bounty of product over a long season. W. murcotts had their way with the market last year and promise to hold a prominent place on store shelves in 2009, but unlike a year ago, they could find a little more competition.

Tom Tjerandsen, marketing director for North America with the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association, Sonoma, Calif., said there were basically three varieties of clementines, other than murcotts, to come out of Chile: the marisol, clemenules — the other principal variety along with murcotts — and arrufati, which growers in Chile are just beginning to experiment with.

“But really,” Tjerandsen said, “there’s not a great variety of clementines that come out of Chile.”

Joe Berberian, sales manager at Bee Sweet Citrus Inc., Fowler, Calif., said that a year ago early market entry, in late April and May, was pivotal in order to get in the market before domestic fruit takes over and before competition from South Africa starts coming in.
 That was last year, though.

“This year could be different because of different exchange rates,” he said. “California will be done in a month. When California’s done, Chile will be here, but not in big volumes — at least not right away. I think volumes should pick up later in the season.”

The variety probably won’t matter, Berberian said. He said his company simply sells a clementine as a clementine, regardless of variety.

“The big guys do the same thing,” he said. “They go start to end and don’t see any difference. The varieties they have they’re going to stick with, and they’re not going to capitalize into the early market.”