"The bad weather is penalizing us as, due to the frequent rain, we cannot harvest citrus fruit with continuity. In addition, the high temperatures in October affected the ripening and coloring of fruits in some cases. The campaign started a week ago with Navel oranges and will continue with Tarocco, which will probably steal the show thanks to their unique pigmentation, organoleptic qualities and flavor," explains Pascal Altieri from Altieri Giacomo & Figlio (Pascal is Giacomo's son).
The Altieri family commercializes citrus fruit obtained from 50 hectares. It has been one of the first Sicilian companies to export citrus fruit to the US in the 1980s under the "Fior d'Arancia" brand.
The facility is located in Palagonia (CT), at the foothills of Mount Etna, where a large variety of traditional citrus fruit, new Tarocco varieties such as Lempso and various types of tangerines are processed in a facility covering 2400 sq m.
"Quantities should be excellent, thanks also to the new orchards planted so as to deal with the Citrus Tristeza Virus (CTV), which caused the death of millions of trees all over the world. Producer prices are good, as are volumes, but quality is lacking."
Due to the delays in the Sicilian Regional Development Program (RDP), many owners lack the economic strength to perform re-planting operations on their own, so much so that some entrepreneurs even abandoned production. This in turn means low-quality fruit from obsolete groves may found its way to the market, especially when considering around 70% of groves have yet to be renewed.
In order to find profitable alternatives, Altieri increased its e-commerce sales over the last few years, guaranteeing the high-quality of freshly-harvested oranges and thus obtaining better profits.
"Results are good, if we consider the fact that online sales of fresh produce are still at the beginning, but we believe in this channel and think it is the future. We believe our Fior d'Arancia brand can do better if we diversify our supply channels. Reaching final clients directly and establishing a direct dialogue with them is definitely something we must do."
Most of the turnover comes from the Italian and foreign big retail chain, followed by wholesalers and direct sales.
One of the ongoing projects entails the transformation of oranges, tangerines and lemons into high-quality marmalade destined to the premium segment.
"Although the company operates of diversified markets, the main problems always derive from the competition from abroad and from Spain in particular. This adds to the fact that small and medium businesses typical of our territory are not safeguarded."