Call the Fruit Ninja! There’s a friendly fruit challenge underway with mandarin oranges taking on other fruits on grocery shelves around the world. Coming off trees in Israel, the Orri Jaffa is in demand in Asia, Europe, and North America for prime space in fruit baskets everywhere.
In 2019, the Plant Production and Marketing Board of Israel has set its sights on the North American market, specifically, predicting up to a 70 percent increase in exports of the Orri Jaffa mandarin to the US and Canada, of its easy-to-peel mandarins. The organization says there is increased demand for high-quality, easy-peelers.
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“The US market for easy-to-peel mandarins is substantial and holds promise as a developing target market for Israeli citrus exports,” says Tal Amit, Director of the Citrus Division in the Plant Production and Marketing Board of Israel.
The Orri Jaffa, in addition to being part of the famous Jaffa orange citrus family, is renowned for its long shelf life, easy-to-peel skin and an exceptionally juicy texture.
The American citrus market has been growing significantly in recent years and is composed largely of imports, according to data from CIRAD report Agriculture Research for development. The mandarin sub-category is the largest in the citrus category, accounting for some 40 percent of the citrus market.
Indeed, market research points to mandarins outpacing their citrus equivalents in the United States. More than 230 thousand tons of easy-to-peel mandarins are shipped into the US annually, at a total value of more than $1 billion. This is in addition to the 1 million tons produced locally.
“We see a lot of upside in demand,” Adam Cooper, vice president of marketing for Los Angeles-based The Wonderful Co., tells Produce Business. “About half the country buys mandarins.”
Studies conducted in recent years confirm a doubling of per-capita consumption of easy-to-peel mandarins in the past two decades.
In spite of this significant rise in consumption of the mandarins in the US, consumption per capita is among the lowest in the world, about 2.5 kg per year. But based on the rapidly increasing demand, that figure is forecast to double. In Canada, that figure is almost doubled exceeding 4.6 kg per capita.
A 2017 report from the CDC shows the vast majority of Americans are not eating enough fruits – just 12.2 percent of American adults consume the recommended 1.5 to two cups of fruit per day.
In Canada, a 2015 Canadian Community Health Survey shows 31 percent of adult Canadians eat veggies and fruits five or more times a day.
Over the past five seasons, citrus exports from Israel to North America have increased from 3,000 tons to 9,000 tons, of which about 5,300 tons are easy-to-peel mandarins. This season, export of Orri Jaffa mandarin alone is expected to reach 9,000 tons.
“The success of easy-peeler mandarins, in particular, can be easily credited to the fruit’s great flavor and unbeatable convenience,” says Amit.
Indeed, Israel is known for packing its fresh produce with great flavors. Known as one of the world’s top agriculture producers, Israel’s horticulturists and agronomists have developed dozens of new varieties of fruits and vegetables for global consumers including better-tasting, more nutritious produce like tomatoes, dates, avocado, pomegranates, pumpkins and squash, among many other fruits and veggies – all with a longer shelf life.
The Orri Jaffa is a mandarin developed by scientists at the Israeli Volcani Research Center. It is known for retaining a sweet flavor with a fleshy texture and bears virtually no seeds. It also carries a particularly long shelf life and appears later in the season compared to other easy peelers – from January into May.
The Orri has been grown commercially for about 10 years but scientists began breeding this mandarin at the end of the 1970s. From experimental plots to field tests to propagation, perfecting the fruit took time. Scientists also added some Israeli agri-tech techniques to ensure the Orri’s excellence.
“In my 30 years of experience in the citrus industry, and with my knowledge of the many varieties, there has never been a better variety of mandarin,” Amit told Fresh Plaza. “Even our competitors admit to this.”
“It is the best mandarin on the market, absolutely,” says Orna Inbar, of the Orri Jaffa sales promotion team.
Inbar tells NoCamels that the Orri is still in development. She says scientists at the Volcani Research Center are working on growing a more “uniform in size mandarin, with a stronger orange color peel and no seeds whatsoever.”
Inbar says she is not surprised the North American market demand for mandarins, which are flatter on both ends than oranges and are usually easier to peel, is on the rise. But Inbar notes that Israeli exports to China are also significant.
On the one hand, China consumes the most mandarins in the world, making up 52 percent of global consumption. China also dominates the market in growing these citrus orbs.
“It is a miracle of miracles that China imports the Orri Jaffa from Israel because they are the global leader for mandarin production,” Inbar tells NoCamels. “The Orri Jaffa appears later in the season so instead of buying frozen fruit you can buy the Orri fresh. And fresh means a better flavor, and the Orri is simply delicious.”
The Jaffa orange, an emblem of Israel’s agricultural prowess for many years, is still a generic name for high-quality citrus fruit. But the Jaffa brand is far from just oranges. The company also grows and exports mandarins, grapefruit and lemons, as well as other cultivars and hybrids.
“Its global success can be attributed to strong R&D programs, scientific cultivation techniques, and cooperation between exporters and Arab and Israeli farmers who jointly market under the Jaffa emblem,” according to the company’s website. The Jaffa breeding program is constantly seeking and creating new products. There are even other varieties of mandarins in the pipeline including a ‘blood’ mandarin, a grapefruit that helps lower blood pressure, and fruits that are shaped differently.
At the moment, the Orri Jaffa mandarin is exported to 45 countries worldwide with most of the yield exported to Europe (78 percent). The most prominent outlets in Europe of this fruit are France (39 percent), the Netherlands, Scandinavia and Russia (7 percent each). About 18 percent of the fruit is shipped to North America, and 4 percent to Asia Pacific.
These orange orbs are now focusing on the North American market with a marketing campaign aimed at reaching every fruit bowl around the US and Canada.
“Jaffa is Israeli. It can be a Jaffa orange or Orri Jaffa mandarin or a grapefruit,” says Inbar. “When an American hears ‘Jaffa,’ there’s that moment of ‘aha, it’s Israeli and good quality.’ Israel has an excellent name in produce.”
Viva Sarah Press is a journalist and speaker. She writes and talks about the creativity and innovation taking place in Israel and beyond. www.vivaspress.com