The boom of the citrus fruits during the COVID-19 pandemic

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The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the food systems in a myriad of ways, from problems in the production side due to sickness and movement restrictions to quarantines affecting how and where people can buy food to what consumers end up eating.

Some foods, mainly fresh fruits and especially citrus, have had a remarkable year. The demand for fresh citrus fruits and juices has been high, mainly due to the choices made by health-conscious consumers.

Citrus fruits in numbers

The international trade of citrus fruits has been growing since the 1980s, led by advances in packaging and transport, which have helped reduce costs and improve quality. Brazil (São Paulo) and the US (Florida) are the largest oranges globally. Other important citrus producers are Spain (particularly clementines), China, Argentina, Mexico, Cuba, Belize, Chile, and Costa Rica.

Orange consumption is expected to grow up to 40% during the pandemic, and prices increased to 38% in the US during 2020 compared with 2019. Orange juice is one of the leading products consumers have sought during the pandemic; sales of the product rose to 22% compared with the previous year. According to a recent University of Florida research, males younger than 45 years old, affluent, and with high education levels who live in urban areas are the consumers most likely to increase their orange juice purchases in response to COVID-19.

During the pandemic period, the purchases of fresh produce and fruits have risen in the US, UK, China, and Brazil, according to research by the Produce Marketing Association. Chinese consumers are reported to buy 66% more fresh fruits than in the pre-pandemic period. The US’s proportion is 48% more, 63% more in Brazil, and 47% increased purchases of fresh fruits in the UK.

In Spain, the demand for fresh produce and fruits rose to 40% because they were considered an essential ingredient due to weight and health concerns. Citric prices were up to 179% higher than in 2019, while for the rest of the fruits, it was 28%. Citric fruits were a boom both in online and physical sales; physical sales rose by 73% for oranges, 58% for mandarins, and 88% for lemons. In comparison, online sales grew by 250% for oranges, 183% for mandarins, and 222% for lemons.

In the European Union, citrus fruit prices rose by 19% on average in 2020, representing a rise of €0.59 / Kg on average for the region. Citrus fruits in Italy grew by 24%, Portugal at 26%, and Greece (27%). Citrus fruits consumed in the EU originate mainly in Spain, South Africa, and Egypt.
In the US, grapefruit prices were significantly higher in 2020 compared with 2019, and the average conventional grapefruit was around US$1.26 per kilo (40% higher); grapefruit bought in the US originates mainly in Mexico, California, and Texas. Lemon prices were similar to 2019 despite the substantial demand rise; the cost of conventional lemons was US$1.39 per kilo (4% higher), the supply of lemons originates mainly in California, Mexico, and Chile. Orange prices grew substantially; the price was US$1.43 per kilo (49% higher), oranges originate mainly from California, Chile, and South Africa.

For citrus fruits in general and orange juice, the pandemic has brought a tremendous opportunity with more people buying products than before. The citrus industry now has the chance to remind consumers of the benefits of eating citrus, which has been proven to be a critical factor in consumer’s choices.
However, even if sales are higher, consumer behavior could be affected by job losses and the associated price sensitivity to the products they buy; the citrus industry has to be alert to new developments.

Citrus fruits and health

According to the experts, there are no miracle fruits that can cure or prevent COVID-19, so preventive measures are the way to go. Nonetheless, citrus fruits can help to boost your immune system. For example, lemons are a good source of vitamin C, which helps immune cells work correctly.

Vitamin C is known to have an important role in the function of the immune system. However, it is not the only nutrient required for its well-functioning; a balanced diet that includes vitamins A, C, D, E, B2, B6, and B12, folic acid, iron, selenium, and zinc is key to support our body’s immune function. It is also essential to be aware that nutritional requirements and absorption rates change with age.

The World Health Organization and other national agencies emphasize no specific food or supplement that can prevent contagion. Nonetheless, they encourage people to consume a healthy and balanced diet to support their immune system. It is also important to be aware that you might be receiving less vitamin D from the sun due to quarantines and movement restrictions, so you might need to take a daily supplement.

Projections for 2021

According to a recent report by the United States Department of Agriculture, global production of soft citruses and oranges is expected to rise in 2021, while lemons are expected to decline slightly.

  • Orange production is forecasted to increase by 7% to 49,4 million metric tons due to favorable weather in Brazil and Mexico that can lead to larger crops; this would also offset declines in production in Turkey and the US. Orange production in Egypt and the EU Is also expected to increase in the 2020-2021 season.
  • The global production of mandarins and tangerines is expected to rise slightly up to 33,1 million metric tons with larger productions in the EU, Mexico, China, Turkey, and the US.
  • Limes and lemons are the only citruses expected to decline. Volumes are set to fall slightly to 8,3 million metric tons as lower productions are expected in Argentina and the US.
  • Grapefruit production is expected to rise slightly to 6,9 million metric tons due to favorable weather in Mexico and China; the US, South Africa, and EU are also expected to rise their productions.

How to protect citrus fruits for global shipping

Consumers’ perception has also changed in the pandemic period. A significant proportion of report was concerned with the safety and cleanliness of fresh produce, adding that they would probably buy them if they came in closed bags and containers.

Shipping fruits from one continent to another is no trivial matter. Many aspects have to be considered, from how to protect fruits from damage during transportation to safe and open borders and a streamlined global logistics chain.

COVID-19 has made global shipping more complicated because of imposed quarantines and occasional port closings. Planes have reduced their trips and their availability to ship fresh produce. Sickness and preventive measures have also difficulted the harvesting process.

Among the actions that can be taken to protect fruit, shipments ensure that they are treated with a protective coating. Up to 40% of produce losses happen at the retail and consumer level, so by applying a protective barrier that lengthens the fruit’s shelf-life, you can also benefit from a higher profit margin.

PolyNatural is a friendly and natural organic coating made from unique vegetable extracts and vegetable polymers. It can reduce rot incidence by 3% and dehydration by 7%. Shel-life® is PolyNatural’s star product, a natural coating organically certified in the EU, US, and internationally.

Shel-Life shows the same performance as synthetic waxes in oranges, with a 0% rotten incidence and 10% dehydration. In lemons, Shel-life® offers 75% less dehydration and 50% less rotten incidence when compared to synthetic waxes.

The pandemic period has been challenging for everyone, but there is a light for citrus producers and traders; the demand is higher and is expected to maintain this trend at least during 2021. Eating a healthy and balanced diet won’t make us immune to the disease, but it will certainly bolster our immune system and our quality of life.