California growers, harvesting an exceptionally large crop of unusually small Valencia oranges, intend to put the squeeze on the nation's consumers this summer to make more fresh juice at home.
Sunkist Growers, which markets more than half the state's citrus crop, intends to work with supermarket chains to promote greater use of this year's flood of small Valencia oranges, President Russell L. Hanlin, said Wednesday. The harvest is expected to produce 6 billion pieces of fruit, compared to 4 billion larger oranges last summer.
"Consumers prefer a larger piece of fruit," Hanlin conceded to reporters before giving his annual midyear assessment to the cooperative's Ventura County members, who gathered at Camarillo Grove County Park. "We have special merchandising challenges this year."
The Valencia Orange Administrative Committee, a grower body that monitors the flow of fruit to market for the U.S. Agriculture Department, reported that this season's crop is averaging about 30% smaller in size than last year's.
Hanlin attributed the record small size to freezing temperatures in January and high winds through orange groves in February, which delayed budding, giving the crop a late start.
The summer promotional effort will encourage shoppers to buy more fresh oranges than usual in order to minimize the number of oranges that must go into such less profitable byproducts as flavorings and concentrate, he said.
What shoppers will find, Hanlin said, will be displays of bags of fruit in weights ranging up to 20 pounds. Later, during back-to-school promotions beginning in August, a "two-for-one" drive will be launched to encourage parents to send their children to school with two oranges in their lunches. Similar promotions are planned in Japan, which is the industry's biggest export customer for fresh oranges and other citrus, Hanlin said.
Even with the special fresh-fruit promotions, Sunkist expects to sell about 69 million 40-pound cartons of Valencias this year, down from 78 million last year. Hanlin translated that--and the slightly lower prices being paid for the fruit this year--into revenue trimmed to about $750 million from $830 million.
Of that, growers will receive about $530 million this year, down from $590 million, he said. That return would be the lowest in three years, he noted, but would be comparable to 1984 and more than $100 million better than 1983.