In its fourth year of U.S. importation, Peruvian citrus exporters and U.S. importers expect excellent quality fruit to arrive in a timely manner and with plenty of volume.

As opposed to last year, when the Peruvian deal started two to three weeks late, exporters are optimistic that the weather is cooperating and the fruit should arrive just in time, although in less quantities.

“Last year, Peruvian citrus production and exports were late mainly because of the very cold 2007 winter,” Estuardo Masias, general manager at Lima-based Prolan, said in an e-mail.

“For 2009, the harvest is on its normal track again but the yields are low in most of the varieties,” he said.

For most importers, weather in Peru this year has helped produce high-quality fruit.

“The weather has been good,” said Roger Griess, global vice president for business development at Sun World International LLC, Bakersfield, Calif.

“There are better weather patterns this year than in the 2008 production year. This is why we are seeing better quality,” he said.

Minneolas, Peru’s leading citrus export, should hit U.S. markets just in time for Fourth of July celebrations.

“We will start picking minneolas around June 10 and packing and shipping them by the 16,” Griess said. “They should be arriving in the U.S. the first three days of July.”

As far as quality is concerned, Peruvian growers are getting better at producing higher quality each season.

High-quality Peruvian citrus enters U.S.

                                  Courtesy La Calera Agricultural

Workers pack citrus for La Calera Agricultural, Chincha, approximately 125 miles south of Lima along Peru’s Pacific coast. Look for The Packer’s Peruvian Citrus special section in the June 15 print edition.

Jeff Miller, president of Westlake Miller, Los Angeles, said Peru grows a very good Minneola, and every year Peruvian growers learn more about what U.S. customer’s expectations are.

“Peruvian minneolas are very clean and have a very nice color and are very compatible with our California crop,” he said.

Griess said the quality of minneolas is similar to the 2007 crop.

“Last year, we had a weak piece of fruit, and this year we have not seen much scaring,” he said.

This year, however, satsuma volume should drop significantly.

“Due to bad weather and an overproduction of satsumas last year, this year our satsuma production is down nearly 40%,” said Sergio del Castillo, general manager at Lima-based Procitrus.

“When you have a year when there is too much production, the following year tends to be down, because overproduction generates much stress on the trees.” 

Clementines have arrived in U.S. markets and their sizing and quality stand out.

“Clementines from Peru will start to arrive in mid-June,” said Marc Greenberg, senior vice president and chief operating officer for Fisher Capespan Inc., St. Laurent, Quebec.

Greenberg said Peru produces a very good quality piece of fruit (clementine) that will compete with neighboring Chile and South Africa.

David Mixon, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Seald Sweet LLC, Vero Beach, Fla., said this season’s clementines are coming in strong with good color and maturity, with peak sizes of 24, 28, 32 and 36.

“Due to a decrease in export volume this year, that means we will have a larger sizing fruit,” Fernando Bustamante, general manager for Coexa SA, Lima, said in an e-mail.

Bustamante said Peruvian citrus is not generally of a lesser size, but sizing does vary from year to year.

“Last year our fruit was bigger than other countries and we expect this year it will be again,” he said.

And when it comes to sizing, U.S. consumers generally prefer their citrus on the bigger side. 

“North America tends to demand larger sizes and Peruvian shippers are very good at supplying customers with the right calibers and sizing,” Greenberg said. “They are very good at segmenting the markets.”

Peruvian navels, especially this year, face tough competition from its Southern Hemisphere rivals.

Chilean navels, for the first time, have entered U.S. markets in May, and Australia has increased significantly its export volumes.

“There are just too many navels out on the market,” Miller said. “As far as volume, South Africa will stay the same, but I’m hearing that Australia will increase their navel exports to the U.S. by 200,000 or 300,000 cartons over last year, and Chile plans to export between 500,000 and 600,000 cartons to the U.S. this summer. It’s going to be very competitive.”

Despite lesser export volume this season, and tougher competition from other Southern Hemisphere countries, Peru is exceeding and making a name for itself.

“Overall Peru has a very high-quality product and growers are doing an exceptional job of growing, packing and shipping,” Griess said.

“They produce an excellent piece of fruit and they deserve a spot in the market,” he said.