For the week ending Aug. 24, Nielsen's total U.S. retail sales data showed that overall citrus fruit dollar sales declined 3.3% in the past year but still represented $4.5 billion in total sales.

During this time, grapefruit dollar sales were down 6.4%; Satsumas were down almost 18%; and Valencias were down 32.5%. Temple oranges, by contrast, gained 54.5% in sales, according to Nielsen.

To prepare for this citrus season, retailers need to allocate their resources to capitalize on these trends and boost fall/winter citrus sales, industry leaders say.

After a larger-than-normal yield and smaller-size crop last year, the California citrus crop looks better this year, says Casey Creamer, president of California Citrus Mutual, Exeter.

"We have generally had more favorable weather, but we still have the winter frost period ahead of us," he says. "Our growers remain optimistic for a better season. We expect lower volumes and more-favorable size structures available in the marketplace."

Adam Cooper, senior vice president of marketing for The Wonderful Co., Los Angeles, agrees, saying growing conditions in California so far have been good for the company's mandarins and seedless lemons, which should arrive as a steady crop from the state.

Valencia, California-based Sunkist Growers offers more than 40 citrus varieties to promote during the peak winter citrus season including a broad portfolio of organics including navels, California mandarins, minneola tangelos, cara cara navels, blood oranges and Valencia oranges, grapefruit, lemons and limes. Paired with its conventional citrus, Sunkist can supply its customers' entire citrus program year-round.

"We're excited to kick off citrus season — it's our favorite time of the year," says Christina Ward, director of communications for Sunkist. "The juicy return of the Sunkist navel orange is just a taste of what's to come."

Ward says Sunkist is seeing good sizing and great quality in this season's crop to meet consumer demand.

"We are seeing an increase in the production of the organic category, including organic mandarins," she adds. "Also, there has been an increase in acreage for other varieties, such as cara caras, blood oranges and mandarins, lending to the increase in production of these categories."

Shelley Rossetter, assistant director of global marketing for the Florida Department of Citrus, Bartow, Florida, said the state's citrus season started on a positive note with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2019-20 citrus crop forecast.

"In the first forecast of the 2019-20 season, the National Agriculture Statistics Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture projected increases in both the Florida orange and grapefruit crops over the previous season," she says.

In an announcement Oct. 10, the USDA predicted Florida orange production at 74 million boxes and Florida grapefruit production at 4.6 million boxes for the 2019-20 season. These numbers are a 3% increase for oranges and 2% increase for grapefruit compared to the 2018-19 season.


Old and new favorites

Wonderful Halos mandarins continue to be a key focus for The Wonderful Co. starting in the fall/winter months with the California season beginning in mid-November and ending in early May, says Cooper.

Wonderful Halos are a top seller for the company, and sales peak before Thanksgiving and Christmas as consumers stock up on holiday snacks for their friends and families to enjoy, he says.

"Furthermore, we're thrilled to announce the newest addition to the Wonderful family, Wonderful seedless lemons, making its debut this fall," says Cooper. 

Wonderful seedless lemons are a naturally seedless, Non-GMO Project verified variety that began hitting stores nationwide in early November.

"Through our internal insights team and research, we know that consumers want less seeds when it comes to their lemons," Cooper says. "In fact, 88% of past-month lemon buyers that were surveyed like the concept of Wonderful seedless lemons and 83% of past-month lemon buyers say they would buy them."

Organic mandarins saw some growth in 2019, and Ward of Sunkist says she expect to see the volume continue to increase year-over-year.

"Mandarins, in general, are still leading the category amongst consumers, and last year, organic mandarin sales were up 39%," she adds. "Distribution of organic mandarins continues to increase, with more than 25% of stores offering 2-pound organic mandarin bags, a 15% increase over the previous season."

Additionally, Ward says Sunkist's specialty varieties including the sweet, seedless and low-acidity cara cara navels and savory, rich blood oranges are piquing consumer interest.

"Research shows that once consumers taste these varieties, they love the unique flavor profiles and come back for more," she says. "Over the last four seasons, both blood and cara cara sales have experienced double-digit dollar and volume sales. Blood orange 2-pound bag sales were up 23% this season versus last year, while the cara cara 3-pound bag represented nearly 50% of total sales."

Lemons and limes also continue to be a focus for consumers due to their versatility and year-long reliability and availability, Ward says.

"Navel oranges, when presented in select giro and net-bag sizes, are forecasted to have a strong performance as well," she adds.

Because there continues to be consumer interest in the health and wellness benefits that citrus can provide, fresh oranges and grapefruit can be sold as great tasting, nutritious diet options, says Rossetter of the Florida Department of Citrus. "Plus, 100% orange juice is a convenient way to get a serving of fruit at a time when many Americans are under-consuming fruits and vegetables," she says.


Branding power

As consumers become more familiar with the various citrus varieties, there is a greater demand for consumer-packaged citrus — in fact, bags were the driver in 2019, says Ward of Sunkist.

"Sunkist now has a complete portfolio of matching organic packaging this season, as well as a new blood orange consumer carton and Lunar New Year cartons and secondary display bins tailored to the Year of the Rat," she says.

The new Wonderful seedless lemons marketing campaign will introduce new branded packaging to create a bigger marketplace for lemons, says Cooper of The Wonderful Co.

"The one key theme you will find across The Wonderful Company brands is that all our packaging features clean lines, clear messaging and transparency about how our iconic products nourish, naturally," he adds.

Citrus is generally purchased on impulse, so large in-store displays in produce, cross-promotions and secondary locations are key to getting consumers to try new varieties, says Cooper.

"Retailers can take advantage of our in-store point-of-sale (POS) displays in produce and outside the department to remind consumers how produce fits into their daily life as a healthy and easy snack," he says. "Branded and eye-catching in-store POS displays within produce and in secondary locations such as check-out and the lobby entrance are huge for Wonderful Halos. We experience noteworthy success when our Wonderful Halos Grove of Goodness high-graphic bins, which feature grove tree and fruit stands, are merchandised in other parts of the store. "

Retailers continued to place Halos POS in unexpected areas of stores, including the frozen food aisle, deli, pharmacy, lobby entrance and at checkout, Cooper says.

"In fact, our more than 200 Wonderful sales merchandisers around the country work with retailers to help set up the POS displays in these strategic locations throughout the store," he adds.


Thinking seasonally — and outside the box

In addition, citrus is great for all kinds of cross-promotions within and outside the produce department, such as limes and avocados, grapefruit and bagged salad, and lemons/limes with seafood and/or alcohol, Cooper says.

"Because citrus is so versatile, different varieties can be successfully promoted throughout the year, such as lemons during Lent/Easter and the holidays, limes during Cinco de Mayo and the Super Bowl, and mandarins during the November/December holiday season, but also for any healthy snacking occasion, including kids' lunchboxes," he adds.

Rossetter of the Florida Department of Citrus says the state's citrus is sweeter and juicier than citrus from other origins, making it the perfect option for fresh-squeezed juice.

"For 100% orange juice, highlight the nutritional benefits a glass of OJ provides," she says. "Every 8-ounce glass provides 100% of your daily value for vitamin C."

Ward says Sunkist's POS materials reflect the California-grown, farm-to-table brand message, and the company provides retailers with the ability to engage with consumers in-store and build brand awareness on the versatility and seasonality of Sunkist citrus.

"Educating consumers in-store through our customizable marketing programs and sampling stations are key for consumers to learn about the health benefits and nutritional attributes of Sunkist citrus, and taste the high-quality product to drive purchase intent," she says.

Part of Sunkist's customizable marketing programs is creating a citrus destination in stores with secondary bins.

"Every citrus variety has a story to tell, from the groves to the grocery store, and Sunkist Growers is translating that story into strategy for its partners nationwide," Ward says. "For us, it's about keeping Sunkist innovative and adaptable to current trends by offering real solutions to the ever-changing consumer behavior. We are here to help our customers drive demand and consumption."