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Francesco Perri

California: There is still someone in the world who believes in citrus fruit

Between 7th and 11th December 2015, Compac Sorting Equipment - manufacturer of "turnkey" solutions for the sorting and packaging of produce with four facilities in New Zealand, Uruguay, Spain and China - organised the 2015 California Citrus Tour. Francesco Perri, agronomist and one of the main citrus fruit experts in Italy, attended. 

Perri told FreshPlaza how it was the perfect end to a year full of experiences and events. The tour represented a chance to visit various companies that produce and market citrus fruit employing Compac processing lines. "This multinational employs 700 operators, 90 of which focus of research. During the tour, we visited the largest citrus fruit packaging station in the world at Delano's Wonderful Citrus, which is owned by Paramount and grows fruit on 8,000 hectares."

Above and below: the Wonderful Citrus facility.

Wonderful Citrus produces clementines and tangerine-like fruit between October 10th and April. In addition, it processes lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruit coming from California, Texas and Mexico. 

"We are talking about around 300 thousand tons of produce sold with different packaging and under various brands processed in a 60,000 sq m facility covered with solar panels and equipped with seven feeding lines that can process 120 tons of fruit an hour."

The Tango cultivar, owned by Wonderful Citrus.

The company grows Common clementines (10th October to 10th January), Clemenules (15th November to late January), Tango (between January and April) and Murcott (between February and April).

Group photo during the visit to Wonderful Citrus.

The group then visited Fowler Packaging in Fresno, owned by the Parnagian brothers, who are of Armenian origin. "The company produces clementines and tangerine-like fruit on 1,100 hectares and a 40,000 sq m facility." 

Until five-six years ago, the area was dedicated to the cultivation of summer fruit. "This means there still is someone who believes in citrus fruit. They process around 200 thousand tons of citrus fruit in 5-6 months, i.e. almost 1,000 tons a day. The company also has a refrigerated unit where 6,000 tons of fruit are placed for a few weeks."

Francesco Perri and Philipe Parnagian in a Clementine orchard owned by Fowler Packing.

The group then visited one of the 27 facilities (the one in Exeter) of producer association Sunkist, which counts on 120 members growing around one million ton of citrus fruit. 

"Sunkist exports a lot to Europe, so we are quite worried. The cooperative works with clementines and tangerine-like fruit, lemons, grapefruit and oranges, especially of the Moro variety, which is very similar to the Sicilian blood orange but ripens earlier, as well as Valencia and pigmented Navel Cara Cara."

Sunkist citrus fruit is sold under 13 brands - 10 for the premium quality and three for category two fruit.

Last but not least, the Wawona Packing Company in Cutler. "It is a big company working with citrus fruit and fruit-bearing trees." 

As explained by Perri, these visits represented the perfect occasion to exchange information and talk to the managers of various Californian companies.

"I can definitely say California companies are very well organised and have a good connection between research and production. In particular, private companies reinvest a small percentage of their income in research, which is very unusual in Italy. Californians are very flexible whereas innovation is much slower in our country. Albert Einstein used to say that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is insanity." 

Moro oranges, safer for its anthocyanin content, and Navel Cara Cara, rich in lycopene, harvested on December 5.

"Their production models are completely different from the European one, and especially from the Italian one. Just think that, in a year, Wonderful Citrus processes the same amount of clementines produced in the whole of Calabria." 

"It is almost impossible to make a comparison - they employ productive models that are strictly capitalistic. Just think that operators are not paid by the hour, but have a basic salary integrated with a percentage calculated according to the daily quintals handled. Better workers get better wages. Can we say the same about Italy?"

And there is a big difference in the details too. When visiting a supermarket, Perri noticed that a 1.3 kg packet of Fowler clementines was sold at $6 (around €5.50). 


Francesco Perri, agronomist
Cell.: (+39) 338 4164800

Author: Maria Luigia Brusco

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