Demand for lemons has seen only a slight jump compared to the increasing demand for oranges.
“There’s a bit of a spike in demand for lemons. But with navel oranges for example, the movement is up 250 percent on typical volume. Lemons have seen only a slight uptick,” says Michael Chavez of Golden Star Citrus in Woodlake, Ca. The movement of oranges is of course tied to the COVID-19 virus—not only are oranges touted as a strong source of Vitamin C used to fight against colds and flues, but oranges also store for long periods of time which make them a solid choice for shoppers looking to make as few trips to the grocery store as possible.
“COVID has everyone shell shocked. A lot of the buying procurement is also happening in work-from- home offices so it’s just slowed the pace of things,” says Chavez. “That’s been a challenge across the board.”
Demand has also changed in the other direction. “Foodservice is a concern for demand until we get past this virus. With restaurants closed, some smaller sizes such as the 165s and smaller, are a big concern that will remain a concern until the country opens back up with full-service restaurants, schools, bars, etc.,” adds Chavez.
Lemons look steady
As for domestic supplies of fruit, good quality fruit is still in production and supplies are steady. “I think we’re going to go through a good chunk of citrus in general. But lemons will hang tight,” says Chavez.
Domestic sizing remains in the medium and larger sizes. “We’ve seen sporadic tight supplies on 200, 235s and 165s,” says Chavez. “But with foodservice being out or extremely slowed down, we’ve seen demand on the smaller foodservice sizes basically vanish. There’s hardly any business to be had there.”
Pricing in fact has strengthened on those medium and larger sizes. “I think it was in conjunction with moving more oranges. They’re also moving a bit more lemons,” says Chavez. “But I haven’t seen the markets drive up as much as they have on orange pricing.”
On the Choice side, medium and larger sizes are in the high teens while medium and larger Fancy grade lemons have been in the high teens to low $20s. “A lot of the cheap fruit that was out there disappeared in the mid to low teens,” says Chavez.
The import picture
Looking ahead to import season, Chavez says he doesn’t see a supply gap coming at all between domestic and imports from South American countries such as Argentina and Chile. “There are some South African lemons on the water now and those will hit the U.S. in a few weeks,” says Chavez.
While Golden Star starts with Chilean imports mid to late-May, Chavez says that overall volumes look good. “My Chilean growers say they’ve got comparable volumes to last year on lemons,” says Chavez. “Sizing looks similar to last year, trending towards the medium sizes versus the larger sizes. We saw more of the larger sized-fruit last season so the sizing structure should be slightly smaller.”
That said, Chile may get some rain before then. “That would increase sizing down the road and may delay picking and harvest just the same way it does out here in California,” says Chavez.