The citrus season is getting underway in Florida with solid supplies.
“Volume is very good. We’re just receiving an abundant amount of grapefruit so grapefruit has been going for the last two weeks,” says Gabriel Bernal of All American Citrus, whose head office is in Miami but works with growers throughout the state’s Citrus Belt. “On oranges, we’re starting with early shipments of Hamlins which is the earlier variety right before Navels kick in. The fruit is still coming to size but things are just ramping up.” While grapefruit season begins in late September-early October and goes until April, oranges go from the middle of October until mid to late May with inventory reserves available until mid-June.
Demand is anticipated to be strong following a solid end to the Florida season in the spring. “We’re on an extreme high after COVID. We had foodservice drop off because of hotels, cruise ships, etc. But we had a huge increase in retail because people are staying home,” says Bernal. “From the end of March to May, our business jumped up by about 40-50 percent.”
More and more bags
And while the company invested in a bagging machine, the Daumar CB-148, in September 2019, the investment proved serendipitous given the rising COVID-19-related interest in bagged product. “We serve clients in the Northeast in major cities such as New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and because of COVID-19, they were shopping for grab-and-go products,” says Bernal, noting customers preferred those because of the safety perceptions around bagged product being handled via fewer touches. “We saw a big uptick in our customer base buying these bags and we worked with retail clients on different sizes.”
The Daumar CB-148.
At the same time, value-added product also came into play—part of the impetus behind the purchase of the machine in the first place. “We invested in it for our supermarket clients to do private or white label bags. These were for our clients who wanted more affordable rates but wanted to move more volume in bags and we’re able to do this with fruit that doesn’t look as good such as #2 fruit, but is juicy,” says Bernal.
In a way, via initiatives like this, Florida is able to bounce back following some challenging seasons. “In 2017-2018, there was a lull in Florida fruit with not a lot of big yields and farmers were selling off their property for development. Florida has also been dealing with citrus greening disease for the past 10+ years,” he says. “I think we hit bottom then and we’re only going up from here.”
As for pricing on Florida fruit, Bernal notes that #1 Florida fruit is priced at roughly $20-$24 for a standard bushel box. Pricing on #2 boxes can be approximately 20-30 percent lower than #1 fruit at times. “The beginning of the season tends to see fruit priced higher and level out around November-December as more volume is available,” says Bernal. “It was only during the end of last season where demand outweighed supply so much that prices jumped 10-20 percent above normal in comparison to those months in previous years.”