US – The citrus industry has a plans to find the next variety of fruit that will appeal to consumers and reverse the trend of surplus supply that continues to exceed demand, says Zak Laffite, CEO of Wonderful Citrus.

This insightful overview of the citrus industry was discussed during the two-day Wonderful Citrus Growers Symposium hosted by the company in California.

According to the CEO, the industry has entered a new phase, and it is imperative to recognize that what worked for them in the past may not be applicable now.

During the period from 2010 to 2019, the industry experienced significant volume growth and implemented aggressive planting strategies.

This resulted in higher margins for growers, as increased velocity led to higher retail profits. Additionally, there was a notable increase in consumption, to the extent that demand surpassed supply.

However, starting from 2020, the industry entered a cycle of saturation as the supply began to exceed the demand.

That was primarily due to high plantings, high retail margins, and volatile profitability on both ends. Laffite further explains that the commoditization of citrus also contributed to this situation.

This downward trend has, thus, prompted the industry to devise mechanisms that will salvage the citrus market by appealing to consumer preferences through the introduction of new citrus varieties.

The Citrus Clonal Protection Program at the University of California, Riverside is responsible for introducing new citrus varieties to the market.

Another challenge currently facing the industry, discussed at the symposium, is the spread of Huanglongbing (also known as HLB or citrus greening), a disease that affects citrus production worldwide.

IFAS Extension classifies the plant disease as a serious threat to industry, given its tendency to affect all citrus cultivars and cause tree decline.

“The US has spent USD 1.5 billion over the past ten years with little progress in finding a sustainable solution.” The CEO revealed. “Variety obsolescence, tree age, and declining productivity necessitate redevelopment, which comes with associated costs.”

Consumer behavior regarding citrus consumption was further discussed at the symposium, with inflation pressures being identified as a major hindrance.

In his view, volume sales for produce in the US have increased by 3% compared to pre-COVID levels. However, consumers are shifting towards canned and frozen options due to concerns about spoilage and cost.

Statistically, consumers are spending more but purchasing fewer items due to increased prices. Fruit outperformed vegetables, mainly due to a significant increase in prices (9.5% for fruit).

Online shopping for fresh produce, according to his review, has remained stagnant and declined from COVID levels. 64% of consumers shopped for fresh food during COVID, compared to 46% now.

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